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Fiction Literary


by (author) Sheila Heti

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Mar 2019
Literary, Contemporary Women, Biographical
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2018
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2019
    List Price

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A daring, funny, and poignant novel about the desire and duty to procreate, by one of our most brilliant and original writers.

Motherhood treats one of the most consequential decisions of early adulthood—whether or not to have children—with the intelligence, wit and originality that have won Sheila Heti international acclaim, and which led her previous work, How Should a Person Be?, to be called "one of the most talked-about books of the year" (TIME magazine).

Having reached an age when most of her peers are asking themselves when they will become mothers, Heti's narrator considers, with the same urgency, whether she will do so at all. Over the course of several years, under the influence of her partner, body, family, friends, mysticism and chance, she struggles to make a moral and meaningful choice.

In a compellingly direct mode that straddles the forms of the novel and the essay, Motherhood raises radical and essential questions about womanhood, parenthood, and how—and for whom—to live.

About the author

Sheila Heti is the acclaimed author of the novel How Should a Person Be?, the story collection The Middle Stories, which was published in Germany, France, The Netherlands, the United States, and Spain, and the novel Ticknor, which was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award. Her writing has appeared in various literary anthologies and in several US and Canadian publications, including New York Times Magazine, Esquire, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and Brick. Heti is also the creator of the popular Toronto and New York-based lecture series, Trampoline Hall. She studied playwriting at the National Theatre School in Montreal, and philosophy and art history at the University of Toronto. Sheila Heti lives in Toronto.

Sheila Heti's profile page


  • Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Excerpt: Motherhood (by (author) Sheila Heti)

My mother cried for forty days and forty nights. As long as I have known her, I have known her to cry. I used to think that I would grow up to be a different sort of woman, that I would not cry, and that I would solve the problem of her crying. She could never tell me what was wrong except to say, Im tired. Could it be that she was always tired? I wondered, when I was little, Doesn’t she know she’s unhappy? I thought the worst thing in the world would be to be unhappy, but not to know it. As I grew older, I compulsively checked myself for signs that I was unhappy. Then I grew unhappy, too. I grew filled up with tears.
All through my childhood, I felt I had done something wrong. I searched my every gesture, my words, the way I sat upon a chair. What was I doing to make her cry? A child thinks she is the cause of even the stars in the sky, so of course my mother’s crying was all about me. Why had I been born to cause her pain? Since I had caused it, I wanted to take it away. But I was too little. I didn’t even know how to spell my own name. Knowing so little, how could I have understood a single thing about her suffering? I still don’t understand. No child, through her own will, can pull a mother out of her suffering, and as an adult, I have been very busy. I have been busy writing. My mother often says, You are free. Perhaps I am. I can do what I like. So I will stop her from crying. Once I am finished writing this book, neither one of us will ever cry again.
This will be a book to prevent future tears—to prevent me and my mother from crying. It can be called a success if, after reading it, my mother stops crying for good. I know it’s not the job of a child to stop her mother from crying, but I’m not a child anymore. I’m a writer. The change I have undergone, from child to writer, gives me powers—I mean that magical powers are not far from my hand. If I am a good enough writer, perhaps I can stop her from crying. Perhaps I can figure out why she is crying, and why I cry, too, and I can heal us both with my words.


Is attention soul? If I pay attention to my mother’s sorrow, does that give it soul? If I pay attention to her unhappiness—if I put it into words, transform it, and make it into something new— can I be like the alchemists, turning lead into gold? If I sell this book, I will get back gold in return. That’s a kind of alchemy. The philosophers wanted to turn dark matter into gold, and I want to turn my mother’s sadness into gold. When the gold comes in, I will go to my mother’s doorstep, and I will hand itto her and say: Here is your sadness, turned into gold.

Editorial Reviews


“A personal story, a feminist debate, a philosophical reflection on time, genealogy and Art—these are just some of the narrative strands that Sheila Heti weaves into Motherhood, a complex and defiant exploration of contemporary womanhood. As her narrator interrogates the spaces between motherhood and childlessness, other paths, other choices, emerge, including the possibilities of fiction itself. In her playful but precise prose, Heti turns interiority into an expansive landscape with life-altering implications for her narrator and anyone with an interest in the paradoxes of choice and the randomness of free will.” —2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury citation

“Here it finally is. A book for all of you who are considering having a baby, who had a baby, who didn’t have a baby, who didn’t want a baby, who don’t know what they want but the clock is ticking anyway. This topic is finally tackled as if it were the most important decision in your life. Because, um. How lucky are we that one of our foremost thinkers took this upon herself, for years, in real time, wrestling every day and living to tell. So f***ing ready to live in the world this book will help make. Read and discuss, discuss, discuss.” ―Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man

“A provocative, creative, and triumphant work of philosophical feminist fiction . . . Heti writes with courage, curiosity, and uncommon truth.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“This lively, exhilaratingly smart, and deliberately, appropriately frustrating affair asks difficult questions about women’s responsibilities and desires, and society’s expectations.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An emotionally complex novel about motherhood that isn’t about children. An intricately constructed book based on games of chance. This feels new.” ―Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

“This inquiry into the modern woman’s moral, social and psychological relationship to procreation is an illumination, a provocation, and a response—finally—to the new norms of femininity, formulated from the deepest reaches of female intellectual authority. It is unlike anything else I’ve read. Sheila Heti has broken new ground, both in her maturity as an artist and in the possibilities of the female discourse itself.” —Rachel Cusk, author of Outline and Transit
“I’ve never seen anyone write about the relationship between childlessness, writing, and mothers' sadnesses the way Sheila Heti does. I know Motherhood is going to mean a lot to many different people—fully as much so as if it was a human that Sheila gave birth to—though in a different and in fact incommensurate way. That’s just one of many paradoxes that are not shied away from in this courageous, necessary, visionary book.” —Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot and The Possessed

Other titles by Sheila Heti