A Roll of the Dice: A Story of Loss, Love and Genetics (Linen Press UK, 2019) tells of a journey that author Mona Dash takes, spanning ten years and two continents – India and the UK – in order to achieve what for some women seems simple: To conceive, give birth, and raise a healthy child. Some mothers face challenges when trying to conceive; others during pregnancy. Still, others face challenges regarding their child’s health. But in Mona’s case, conception, pregnancy, and maintaining her baby’s health after birth are all challenges. Mona’s case is not only unusual but exceptional – experienced by as few as one in hundreds of thousands of parents – because she carries a gene that pre-disposes a child to having SCID: Severe Combined Immuno-Deficiency.
In the beginning of the book, we learn that although Mona’s first pregnancy causes her worry, she gives birth to a seemingly healthy child. Only months after birth, however, the baby becomes increasingly ill and doctors are unable to diagnose what is wrong. Eventually, the parents discover that their baby has SCID, the only possible cure for which may be a bone marrow transplant not available to them in India. This leads them to raise funds in a quest to treat their baby in the UK. However, the funds cannot be raised in time to save the baby.
This story of loss is substantial in itself, but it is only the beginning of the journey and Mona’s memoir. With a degree in engineering and a successful career, Mona determines to carry on with life in India. But she is unable to surmount her feelings of loss. Knowing that her only chance of having a healthy child may be to live in a place with more options and resources, Mona works hard to move her career to London. It is a city she loves and feels at home in, and where she finally is able to move beyond the grief of losing her first child. Even after moving to London, though, Mona encounters every obstacle imaginable (and some that are unimaginable) on her journey to conceive and give birth to a child that will survive SCID.
The language of this story is for the most part lyrical and even poetic, making it a highly engaging narrative, even as it also includes more technical passages describing medical conditions and procedures. In terms of audience, this memoir might be of particular interest to mothers who are trying to conceive or experiencing issues regarding pregnancy, or health issues of a young child. However, it will at the same time appeal to a much broader audience, as the author addresses how she overcomes obstacles and stresses the importance of persistence in order to achieve one’s dreams. This memoir is not a self-help book, but it is in the best sense inspirational.
Although recounting a personal journey, the memoir provides insights into complex issues and inequities regarding health care in two countries. The advantages and resources for health care in countries like the US and UK are juxtaposed with realities of health care in India – although India’s health system also has its benefits. On one occasion when she goes home to visit family, Mona takes medical tests and gets immediate results. Sometimes the NHS, as Mona’s sister (who is a medical doctor) notes, forces patients to wait for care whereas, in India, procedures can be done right away.
Much of the memoir also includes humour, even with regard to descriptions of events or procedures that might otherwise be grim. In one such passage, Mona describes undergoing a surgical procedure in a private London hospital as almost a holiday, staying at a bed and breakfast – one she doesn’t want to leave, until her husband insists ‘it’s time to go.’ Mona has the advantage of having both a sister and father who are medical doctors in India, and ‘medical tourism’ is common in India. But Mona and her husband ultimately find that their needs for highly technical and expensive health care can be met only in the UK. Even once they are living in the UK, the trials and tribulations are not over. They still must make complex decisions, that sometimes fly in the face of the very professionals whose expertise they have sought.
Following the loss of her first baby, Mona is consumed with doubt – how she asks her mother, could any caring god take her baby or make her suffer such trials and tribulations just to have a healthy child? One of the strongest elements of this memoir is its reflections on spirituality and philosophy. At times Mona has faith in myriad gods, reiki, and ‘positive thinking,’ while at other times she questions everything. But through years of doubt, searching, and faith, Mona not only survives and overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but persists to achieve her dream: to hold on, and have a healthy child.
Mona Dash’s memoir tells of an exceptional medical history, reminiscent of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, in relation to its scientific detail. On the other hand, the story is of a spiritual journey and travelogue in the spirit of Eat Pray Love – with urgency and substance. Above all, A Roll of the Dice is a highly inspirational, informative, and compelling read.
Mona Dash is the author of Untamed Heart (Tara India Research Press, 2016), two collections of poetry Dawn- Drops (Writer’s Workshop, 2001) A certain way, and very recently, her memoir A Roll of the Dice: a story of loss, love and genetics (Linen Press, UK) She has a Masters in Creative Writing (with distinction) from the London Metropolitan University. Mona was awarded a ‘Poet of excellence’ award in the House of Lords in 2016. Her work has been published, anthologised, and listed in various competitions such as Bath, Bristol, Fish, Leicester Writes, Asian Writer, Momaya Press to name some. Her short story collection Let us look elsewhere was shortlisted for the SI Leeds literary awards ’18.
America Hart America Hart is the author of the novel into the silence: the fishing story (Red Hen Press 2014; audiobook 2019). She holds an MA in Africana Studies from New York University, as well as an MA in Creative Writing. Her fiction, poetry and academic articles have appeared in publications such as The Journal of African Cultural Studies, Shearsman Magazine, and Blackbox Manifold, among others. America has been a finalist in the Galley Beggar Short Story Prize, a Notable Contender in the Bristol Prize, and long-listed in the Fish Prize. She lives in Kent, England.