Mother, a generous noun.
A concept assigned to you for simply carrying and birthing a child.
A word that betrays the child.
In Natural Behavior, we meet Lily – a child left to raise herself in a state of deep negligence and a young woman who has never let anyone in. Through short, arresting chapters, the novel cuts between Lily as a child growing up with an absent mother and Lily as an adult who has just birthed her first baby. In raw and unapologetic prose, the critically lauded novelist Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde asks difficult questions about what it really means to have and to be a mother.
Lily in the present is paralyzed by fear that she is destined to fail as a mother because her own mother failed her so utterly. When her baby opens his eyes for the first time, her instinctive thought is that he has lost out by being born to her. Her fear is exacerbated by the fact that she is so utterly alone with it. Because no one knows the truth about who Lily really is. For over two decades, she has created a façade of a well-adjusted and successful young career woman. She has friends, a boyfriend with whom she shares a renovated apartment on a swanky address, and an impressive job as a lawyer. Everyone thinks Lily grew up with a single mother who died long before – the details are murky, but people tend not to ask too much and Lily is an expert at maneuvering social conversation. But when she is confronted with her own motherhood, Lily’s carefully controlled reality begins to crumble. And when Lily learns that the mother she has been estranged from for so long is dying, she must bid farewell to the person who both defined her and abandoned her as a child.
In a parallel narrative, we meet Lily as a precocious child. Her mother works nights and takes pains to rarely overlap with her daughter in their small apartment. Lily has what she needs to keep herself fed and dressed, but the apartment is devoid of the love and warmth Lily is starving for. When Lily is gifted a cat to keep her company, she sees the gesture as her mother’s final attempt to replace herself. No person can thrive without emotional sustenance and the lonely child seeks comfort where she can. In an animal, in a neighbor who shows kindness, in being “good” and achieving.
Natural Behavior is an emotionally brutal and intellectually nimble novel that asks if it is possible to give to our children something that we have not ourselves been given.
“Now I am going to use a word I seldom use: touched. That is what I am by this novel. I can’t stop reading, I sit alone with little lonely Lily there in the sofa and hope so deeply that Mama won’t toss out Majsan the cat onto the street. How can someone who has never had a home try to create one? The novel stirs layers within me that have nearly been mummified – as a reader, mother and daughter. Can you give more than you have been given? To mother, as a verb, what does that really mean? All I know is that it is damn hard.”
Swedish radio (SE)
“Natural Behavior is a huge leap forward for the authorship. Acute and insightful in its view on the power hierarchy has over us, and at times chillingly touching in its rendering of how winding the road to love can be for those who were born without.”
“The depiction of the girl’s powerlessness, loyalty and insistent attempts at reaching her mother is deeply moving. As is the portrait of the incapable Mona. The depiction of their complicated relationship is remarkably convincing.”
Svenska Dagbladet (SE)
“Hashemzadeh Bonde’s writes with acuity and without sentimentality, even if a parallel about a cat who refuses to care for its offspring is so painful it has me skipping parts and then forcing myself to go back and read because it is my job as a critic to do so. (…) Natural Behavior is a searing contemporary testimony over how unnaturally difficult that which we regard as most natural can be.”
“Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde’s third novel Natural Behavior poses large existential life questions, as seen from the most fundamental relationship, in a direct and tangible way. The story about a small family life is endlessly suspenseful and told with persuasive psychological insight.”