Mothers Lead by Jenny Athena Wong

Jenny Athena Wong pens a powerful and poignant memoir in Mothers Lead, describing the book as “the journey of a girl to motherhood.” The 12,000-words book is spread over 550 pages and is written in a prose-poem format. It is like reading a form of blank verse (poetry written in unrhymed lines). There is no particular meter followed, resulting in short, succinct lines that penetrate deeper than full-bodied prose. There are some pages that contain just one word — at times written in all caps. Again, some pages have just three words — the very emptiness of the rest of the page making readers pause and assess the author’s thoughts. Wong’s purpose is to trace her life path that began with her escaping death. “As a second girl born to a family in China in the 1980s, my life was mandated to be terminated, my illegal birth evidence of a crime, and my survival a statistical improbability,” said Wong. She shares her thoughts about the Communist regime in China, and how its one-child policy at the time of her birth nearly killed her.

Thanks to the kindness of people around her and her family’s move to the U.S. shortly thereafter, Wong survived. She notes the struggles the immigration entailed: “We had no toys, we couldn’t afford them, we never asked for them.” Although Wong did not know even basic English when she started school in the U.S., she captures the essence of her education through humor and wit, interspersed with sudden bursts of hindsight and dramatic statements. The next pages follow her life path, as she went on to
join the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) against her family’s wishes because they did not feel a girl in high school should join the military and her lifelong struggle to break free of gender stereotyping. Wong delves into all aspects of her life, including the path to motherhood in the first part of the book. The second part comprises her call to action to remedy most social ills. She writes, “Behold ladies. We hold more power than you know. [Man] survives only through us. We form the world as we
wish through our progeny.”

In another interesting formatting choice, there are pages kept intentionally blank in between certain calls to action that is reminiscent, in a slightly far-fetched way, of the modernist novel “Ulysses” by celebrated Irish author James Joyce. Wong asks, “Ready to turn the world upside down? Right side up.” The next two pages are blank; followed by only the next call to action: “The ship is launching. Are you in or out?”

Mothers Lead is unique —in its narrative style, text formatting and word plays. It is evocative, at times even provocative, but unapologetic in its honesty and rawness.

Mothers Lead. A Memoir | A Modern Woman | A Mission

By Jenny Athena Wong

ISBN: 979-8-9887852-0-0 (e-book, free); hardback: 979-8-9887852-1-7

($28.99); paperback: 979-8-9887852-2-4 ($22.99)

— Reviewed by Sriya Chattopadhyay