All proceeds from the sale of this book go towards the Bhopal Medical appeal – which provides free treatment for victims of both the Bhopal gas leak in 1984 and the toxic water left by the Union Carbide Corporation (now owned by DowDuPont). More on this later, and more information is available on the author’s website.
Jo and Ian’s marriage is hanging on by a thread. They have lost their only son, Paul to a seemingly guiltless joyrider and things are made worse by the fact that Paul had been adopted. Why, they wonder, would they have received this gift (albeit some years ago), only to have it ripped away so cruelly?
They decide to move from their home to be closer to Ian’s mother Dorrie, now ageing and frail. Ian deals with his grief in that typical male way: not wanting to deal with it at all; not talking about it or discussing and trying to behave like it never happened. He disappears to work all day and just carries on with things. But for Jo, things are more complicated. She feels unable to pick up her life and carry on where things left off.
Inevitably Jo and Dorrie become closer and as time progresses they share many of their heartaches and a lot of the pain that would usually not be discussed. Dorrie has secrets in her past that she feels need to be revealed as she’s getting closer to the end of her life.
Meanwhile, Jo is wondering how on earth she’s going to manage to continue with her day to day existence as she just can’t seem to get it together. Most days, she’s almost afraid to admit that she doesn’t actually want to. Until one day she sees a picture of a child in a magazine who bears an uncanny resemblance to Paul. This boy has been tragically affected by a disaster in Bhopal, India and it sets Jo on an unimaginable journey … one that brings her to realise that by reaching out to others, she might just find the way back to herself.
While the story itself is devastating, it’s also one of friendship, hope and renewal. A 4-star read that will remain with you long after you’ve finished that last page.
A word from Annie Murray …
Soon after midnight on the morning of December 3rd, 1984, what is still recognized as the world’s worst ever industrial disaster took place in the city of Bhopal in central India.
A plant built to manufacture pesticide, owned by the American Union Carbide Corporation, leaked 40 tons of methyl-isocyanate gas, one of the most lethally toxic gases in the industry, over the surrounding neighbourhood. This was a poor area consisting mainly of slum housing, some of it leaning right up against the factory wall.
People woke, coughing and choking. Panic broke out as many tried to flee for their lives. As they ran, their bodies broke down with toxic poisoning, eyes burning, frothing at the mouth. Women miscarried pregnancies. Many people flung themselves in the river and by dawn, the streets were littered with thousands of bodies. It is estimated that 10,000 died that first night and the death toll continued, within weeks, to a total of about 25 000. Many more have died since. There are still reckoned to be 150 000 chronically ill survivors. Their plight was not helped by the fact that Union Carbide would not release the name of an antidote to a poison that they did not want to admit was as dangerous as it really was.
The plant, making less profit than had been hoped, was being run down for closure and was in poor condition. Not one of the safety systems was working satisfactorily. In addition, the original design of the factory had been ‘Indianized’ – in other words built more cheaply than would be expected of such a plant in a western country.
This was 35 years ago. In 1989, a paltry amount of compensation was eventually paid by Union Carbide who did everything a large corporation can do to evade taking responsibility. Their comment was “$500 is about enough for an Indian.” That was $500 to last for the rest of the life of a man who could no longer work to look after his family.
The sickness and suffering from ‘that night’ goes on in those who survived to this day. What is less well known about Bhopal however, is that even before the 1984 gas leak, the company had been dumping toxic waste in solar evaporation ponds. The lining used was about like you would use in a garden water feature. This in a country of heavy rains and floods. In the early 80s, people started to notice how bad their water supply tasted. Cows were dying.
Union Carbide closed the plant. They never cleared the site, which still stands in an area of highly toxic soil and water. The water supply in that area is so contaminated that water has to be brought in from outside. In 2001 Union Carbide was bought by the Dow Chemical Company, and is, from 2018, now DowDuPont. Despite having acquired all the assets of Union Carbide they are not prepared to accept its liabilities and clear up the site.
In the months after the gas leak in 1984, the nearby Hamidia hospital started to see children born with birth defects more horrific than any they had witnessed before. These days, because of gas- and also water-affected parents, the rate of birth defects is now reaching into a third, soon to be a fourth generation. The main parallel with the kind of extreme toxic effects would be with the children of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The only free care in this impoverished neighbourhood for people suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, or to help with very severely handicapped children, is from the Bhopal Medical Appeal. It is to them that all the money from Mother and Child is going.
In the book, you can read more about what happened in Bhopal and about how the book itself came to be written.
Annie Murray was born in Berkshire and read English at St John’s College, Oxford. Her first ‘Birmingham’ novel, Birmingham Rose, hit The Times bestseller list when it was published in 1995. She has subsequently written many other successful novels, including The Bells of Bournville Green, sequel to the bestselling Chocolate Girls, and A Hopscotch Summer. Annie has four children and lives near Reading.
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