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For those who can’t get enough of the TV show, UnPrisoned, here’s a list of books that deal with similar themes. From unusual parent-child equations to how growing and learning don’t come with an expiration date, these books share valuable insights imperative to how we look at the world.
Paneka by Ronan Hession
Like UnPrisoned, this novel also tells the story of a father-daughter duo on a journey towards self-discovery. Paneka, in his fifties, is still figuring out how to live life and make amends for his past mistakes. His daughter, a single mother, is going through her own set of struggles while trying to raise her son. It’s a story about finding love, reconciling with past mistakes, and making peace with the brokenness that defines us all. Paneka and his daughter’s stories are universal and Hession’s beautiful prose brings them to light.
Maame by Jessica George
With a mother who spends most of her days in Ghana and a brother who rarely comes home, Maddie is the sole caretaker of her father. His Parkinson’s keeps him home-bound, as a result of which Maddie can barely go out and live the life that a twenty-something-year-old is supposed to live. There is a lot of weight on her young shoulders with no one to ease her burden. But one day her mom announces that Maddie can move out as she will be home looking after her father. This novel is a nuanced portrayal of parental love, filial duties, and journeying towards self-actualization.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
With Northern Ireland as the backdrop, this book captures a young woman getting caught between political allegiances, familial duties, and romantic alliances. Just like UnPrisoned where a parent-child relationship is non-linear and cannot be defined in terms of binaries, Trespasses also depicts the intricacies of mother-daughter dynamics that cannot be fully pigeonholed as either positive or negative. The mother’s co-dependence keeps the daughter from being her own person and romantic love becomes a vent for her frustrations. But politics seldom cares about ordinary people’s well-being and her future becomes disastrous.
Activities Of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen
Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant, becomes the caregiver for her stepfather. His failed ambitions, dementia, and history of alcoholism don’t make him the best company. Alice tries to find meaning in her project revolving around an artist and his performance pieces. She takes stock of her life, what adds value to it, and how we as individuals can make the best use of our time. The legacy of loss, grief, and her stepfather’s decline make her wonder what truly makes lives worth living.
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Nine-year-old Swiv is raised by women. Her pregnant mother despite loving her fiercely might not always be the best parent a child deserves. Swiv has to care for her frail but lively grandmother as her mother is mostly unavailable. The sharp, witty prose in Fight Night brings out how often children have to parent their parents and regardless of how unfair the situation is, there is no way out. Swiv comes of age at a home that doesn’t provide her with all the resources necessary for her healthy development. Yet she persists and tries her best to hold her family together.
My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley
Bridget’s mother won’t live long. She has very few friends to count on and her marriages have wrecked her life beyond repair. Her relationship with her daughter is rocky but that doesn’t mean there is any lack of love. The cruelties and the tenderness in their relationship go hand in hand. Both the mother and the daughter grow together but is it too late already to fix their relationship? Can it ever be mended or do both of them have to live with it?
Hellfire by Leesa Gazi (Translated by Shabnam Nadiya)
The mother has kept both her adult daughters under unofficial house arrest. Her bizarre fear of the outside world and what it can do to her daughters make her impose strict nonsensical rules on them. But one day one of the sisters heads out to go to a market and as she starts exploring she loses track of time breaking the rules her mother makes her follow. The emotional damage that parents inflict on their children, unwittingly, not just impacts one’s formative years but also seeps into their adulthood. This book is a fierce portrait of emotionally stunted parents and the legacy of trauma they leave their children with.
Cold Enough For Snow by Jessica Au
Cold Enough For Snow is an exploration of the quiet life. A mother and daughter duo visits bookstores, museums, and parks, and takes in Japan in its entirety. Their concerns are small and simple— the mother doesn’t understand much about art, the daughter wants her mother to feel at ease while vacationing, and such like. Their trip has been planned meticulously around experiences that might initiate some kind of shared interest between the mother and the daughter. However, all throughout the book, there is a sort of detachment that stands tall between them.
The Illicit Happiness Of Other People by Manu Joseph
Ousep and his wife are busy grieving their dead son who has very unfortunately committed suicide. Their other son watches his parents slowly but steadily spiral into insanity. Joseph’s witty prose keeps the readers hooked from the first page. The failed ambitions of parents are passed onto their kids and they stagger under the weight for as long as they live. Like UnPrisoned, this bittersweet tale about how families operate will offer solidarity and comfort to readers hailing from similar backgrounds.
Em And The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto
The mother’s mental illness and suicide attempts keep the father and the siblings on their toes. The father tries his best to keep the household running but his attempts fail mostly. The kids grow up in a dysfunctional family and normalcy for them is an alien concept. There is a lot of love in their family but love itself isn’t enough to give them the feeling of security they need. Fans of UnPrisoned will dig all the unconventional ways parental love and care unfolds here.
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