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Fiction Literary

The Bad Mother

by (author) Marguerite Andersen

translated by Donald Winkler

Second Story Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2016
Literary, Biographical, Family Life
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2016
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Born in Germany, Marguerite was just into her twenties when she moved to Tunisia with her French lover. She thought she was choosing a life of adventure and freedom, but what she got was children and a marriage that quickly became abusive. Constrained by the minutiae of everyday life, Marguerite longs for the agency to make her own choices. Eventually she flees, leaving her children behind for a year and a half.

As the world labels her a wife, a mother, and eventually a bad mother, Marguerite wrestles with her own definition of personhood. Can you love your children and want your own life at the same time? A half-century later, this fictionalized account of Andersen's life is written with brutal honesty, in spare, pithy, and often poetic prose, as she expresses her own conflicted feelings concerning a difficult time and the impact it had on her sense of self. Andersen confronts the large and small choices that she made—the times she stayed and the times she didn't—all the while asking, "What kind of mother am I?"

About the authors

Marguerite Andersen writes mostly in French. An autobiographical novel, De mémoire de femme, won the Prix du Journal de Montréal in 1983; La Soupe, also a novel, won the Grand Prix du Salon du livre de Toronto in 1995. Written in English, Christiane Pflug: Stations in a Painter's Life, is a theatrical account of the life and suicide of the Berlin born Toronto painter. It was successfully performed in 1996, during The Gathering, a festival of women's voices presented in Toronto by Women's Theater Works. Editor of Mother Was Not a Person - the 1970 bestseller of writings by Montreal women - Marguerite Andersen has taught Women's Studies and Modern French Literature at Concordia University, the University of Guelph and held the Nancy Ruth Chair of Women's Studies at Mount St. Vincent University. Twice a finalist for the Trillium Award, she lives in Toronto and is the editor of the short story magazine Virages.

Marguerite Andersen's profile page

Donald Winkler was born in Winnipeg, graduated from the University of Manitoba, and did graduate study at the Yale School of Drama. From 1967 to 1995 he was a film director and writer at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, and since the 1980s, a translator of Quebec literature. In 1994, 2011, and 2013 he won the Governor General Award for French to English translation, and has been a finalist for the prize on three other occasions. His translation of Samuel Archibald's short story collection, "Arvida," was a finalist for the 2015 Giller Prize. He lives in Montreal, Quebec.

Donald Winkler's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Her story, told with power and grace, is that of all women who wonder whether, by longing for lives of their own, they have earned the label of 'bad mother.'

Foreword Reviews

Andersen’s The Bad Mother is a defence of unorthodox, non-nuclear and cosmopolitan motherhood... There’s no doubt that Marguerite struggles as a mother. However, her questioning of her desires, motives and the consequences of her actions is precisely what makes her a good mother instead of a bad one.

Winnipeg Free Press

Andersen writes with strength, even as she exposes her innermost doubts and perceived failings, and her confessional stream of consciousness style is eloquent and inviting, even when addressing difficult political and social issues. Every mother may have doubts, but few put them in writing with such power and grace.

Publishers Weekly

A compelling read that clearly reveals author Marguerite Andersen as an impressively talented and skillful novelist, "The Bad Mother" is deftly translated into English for the benefit of an American readership by Donald Winkler.

Midwest Book Review

Beginning with the Second World War and the narrator's subsequent flight to Canada, the novel follows the caprices and decisions made by the title character, who negotiates what it means to be a mother and to retain a sense of womanhood.

Quill & Quire

[T]he language is clear and sometimes evocative, especially when Andersen is talking about the Tunisian landscape and details of daily life. A description of bathing her two toddlers is supremely sensual, a lovely and engaging moment of simple happiness.

Montreal Review of Books

In [The Bad Mother] we follow the life of Marguerite as she worries about the ways in which she might be deemed a bad mother – still one of the worst accusations that can be thrown at a woman – because at times she refused to sacrifice selfhood at the altar of motherhood. Though decades past the era Andersen mostly writes about, the bravery of this poetic work still resonates.

The Globe and Mail

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