Review: Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Brass shows the true dynamic of mother/daughter relationships

Brass has two narratives that alternate with each chapter: one belongs to Elsie and the other focuses on her daughter, Luljeta, 17 years later. Elsie tells her story of first love and pregnancy in a sassy, first-person voice that draws you in. Meanwhile, Luljeta tells her coming-of-age story in a striking second-person voice that complements Elsie’s chapters. While you might think that these types of narratives combined would be confusing or off-putting, like I did at first, the narratives absolutely work together to create a unique, sassy, and captivating novel.

This novel is kind of perfect to read around Mother’s Day

This book really pinpoints the reality of mother/daughter relationships, particularly their struggles. I know, the phrase “mother/daughter struggles” is not one you often hear around Mother’s Day because everyone is so focused on how amazing motherhood is and how important it is to appreciate your mother… and that’s great, but life is hardly ever that simple. Brass doesn’t sugarcoat motherhood or hide the fact that not everyone has a great relationship with their mother, but it also highlights the sacrifices and hardships that mothers endure to provide for their children.

I intended to review Brass back in January around the time of its release date, but I’m glad I’m posting this review around (U.S.) Mother’s Day instead. Brass is one of the only mother/daughter novels I have really been able to relate to. Perhaps that’s because Elsie has her own narrative that focuses on when she was young (I think 17 years old) instead of focusing on her character as solely Luljeta’s mother. Often, “mother” characters in books are solely that—their primary role is to be someone’s mother. They hardly get an identity aside from that. By having Elsie be the same age as her daughter in her narrative, she gets to be herself and her own character. It is important to acknowledge that mothers do not solely exist as their “mother” role, although that is obviously a huge part of them. This is something women often struggle with during motherhood—holding on to an identity that is separate from their children.

Plus, Elsie comes from a lower-class family and everything is a struggle. When Elsie finds out she’s pregnant, she has no idea how she will be able to afford a baby. While pregnant, she sleeps on a deflated air mattress and wakes up at the crack of dawn to get to work. There are so many mother/daughter books that focus on middle class families, but Brass is the only book I’ve read that delves into the details of how being poor or lower class can affect a mother/daughter relationship.

The characters are flawed and you might hate them at times

Some readers love likable characters that make the right choices and do the right thing 100% of the time. I, however, like flawed characters that are sometimes mean, who sometimes make the wrong choices, etc. Elsie and Luljeta are young and naïve, but think they know better than everyone else, including their own mothers. They repeatedly make poor decisions and mistakes, and at times I was beyond upset at how much they managed to mess up their own lives….

But that’s life. It’s gritty and sometimes hard to read about, but it’s real and getting that perspective is important. In Brass, we see (sometimes ungrateful) daughters looking past the mistakes of their mothers and learning to appreciate their ability to endure hardships to make the best of their lives.

While I think you’ll appreciate this book a whole lot more if you’re a mother or a daughter, this is a gritty, funny novel that will move just about anybody.

Happy Belated Mother’s Day!

★★★★★

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