Mother of All Pigs is the incisive debut novel of the London-based Jordanian-Filipina-American writer and critic Malu Halasa. As that globe-roaming biography might indicate, Halasa brings a worldly eye to her subject: a small-town Jordanian family, which includes the matriarch Fadhma, her academic daughter-in-law Laila, Laila’s drunken husband Hussein (a pig butcher) and a visiting American cousin, all driven by unspoken hopes, fears, rivalries, regrets and ambitions. When an acquaintance from Hussein’s military past resurfaces, these conflicts rise to the surface.
To describe this novel as a “saga” would be to undercut its acute understanding of the power dynamics in Jordan and, more broadly, the Middle East. Gender, class, religion, military history, the consequences of war and displacement all leave their mark on the characters’ mistrustful psyches, on the unequal society, the tough economy, the landscape itself. Halasa is a prolific writer who has confronted these ideas in previous…