Sophie Lambert on Motherland

Sophie Lambert

Sophie Lambert, agent at Conville & Walsh

“As an agent I am always drawn to stories that offer up glimpses of places I’ll almost certainly never get to go to. So when Motherland arrived on my desk, I was immediately swept into a world that no longer even exists – 1970’s East Germany.

Jess and Eleanor are unwavering in their commitment to and belief in socialism being the path to happiness and fairness, and their integrity underpins their actions throughout. But it wasn’t just Jo’s rich evocation of place or the political and historical intrigue that had me hooked, it was the humour. Jo has gifted Jess with a wonderful eye for observation and an endearing and perfectly judged voice. From the outset Jess reminded me of another Jess – Jeanette Winterson’s protagonist in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – who was a personal favourite of mine.

Motherland is as much about the bond between mothers and daughters as it is about political idealism and adventure, and the crumbling of beliefs and loss. What Jo does so effortlessly is to thrust us into 1970’s Tamworth as well as the GDR – Motherland is packed with detail and flavour that is reminiscent of Goodbye Lenin and East is East. Jo peppers the narrative with cultural reference points that enhance the overall sense of place and time, thus building up – over the course of the novel – a snapshot of an era as well as a place.

Motherland is so clearly written from the heart and Jo’s own experiences, knowledge and understanding echo throughout its pages. And when it did arrive on my desk (in the form of a traditional paper submission in the post) this conviction and passion shone through. As an agent it’s unusual to stumble across such a gem in the so called ‘slush pile’ (known to us more commonly as the talent pool!) and it underlines to me what is so rewarding about my job. I know that Jess and Eleanor (as well as Jo and her mother Isobel) would want their story shared far and wide. They would want their hope and naivety, their principled approach and their love of sauerkraut celebrated, pondered and puzzled over and they would want us all to raise a glass of Rotkappchen to life. I urge you to dive into Jo McMillan’s Motherland. It embraces somewhere that has disappeared and I promise it will make you laugh as well as cry.”

Motherland by Jo McMillan will be published in hardback and ebook by John Murray on July 2nd 2015.  Follow Jo on Twitter at @JoMcMillan and find out more about Motherland and Jo by visiting her website jomcmillan.com.

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