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Posts tagged ‘memoir’

Carried In Our Hearts

0399161058.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Carried In Our Hearts
New York Journal of Books
Review by Gabriel Constans

Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption:
Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents

by Dr. Jane Aaronson

“. . . There is great care, hope, and love in these pages.”

The introduction to Carried in Our Hearts reads, “These stories need to be told,” and Dr. Jane Aronson does so with honesty, insight, love, conflict, and conviction.

This collection of adoptive families around the world is wisely divided into eight thematic sections, the headings of which convey the essence of the essays in each. They are: The Decision, The Journey, The Moment We Met, Early Challenges, Becoming A Family, A New Life, Reflections: Children Tell Their Own Adoption Stories, and The Children Left Behind.

The author/editor of this collection is Dr. Jane Aronson, who has two adopted boys of her own from Ethiopia. Dr. Aronson is a pediatrician who specializes in adoption medicine and who founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation. To say her heart, body, and soul are thoroughly invested in helping children (professionally, personally and collectively) would be an understatement.

UNICEF estimates that there are 153 million orphans in the world. Dr. Aronson is trying to get as many of them into families as possible and make sure those not adopted are treated with dignity and care.

The title of the book comes from an adopted child’s remark overheard by her mother when she was speaking to another young child her age. Her daughter’s friend said she was carried in her mother’s tummy and the adopted daughter replies, “My mommy didn’t carry me in her tummy; she carried me in her heart.” That line alone could make the harshest reader’s heart melt, but it is just one of many poignant moments revealed throughout this compilation.

Molly Wenger McCarthy, who has three children, including daughter Lu from Ethiopia, sums up the experience of adoption (and having and raising children by any means) with an insightful and comprehensive line, “The home side of our adoption is a humbling, astonishing, crazy, poignant mess of a life.”

Shonda Rhymes (creator of TV shows Gray’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal) tells about her need to surrender control to the process, as she adopted her daughters, as does actress Mary-Louise Parker and many others who had children previously or were adopting for their first time.

All of the parents who adopted also spoke about learning how to balance doing what they could for the process to move forward and simultaneously letting go of what was beyond their grasp or ability to change. Some might liken it to an adoption parent’s version of 12-step programs’ serenity prayer.

The section titled Early Challenges is especially helpful and necessary to give readers an objective perspective of the difficulties that can arise in the midst of all the goodness and joy. Physical and mental health issues, birth parents changing their minds, governments saying “no” at the last minute, adopted children having difficulty adjusting to a new environment and language, etc. can all take place before, during, and after adoption, just as painful issues can arise with biological children.

Carried in Our Hearts proclaims to contain stories from “families created across continents,” which may lead one to believe that the essays include a variety of adoptive parents (culturally, nationally, and of various financial means), but the reality is that ninety percent of the families who speak about their experience in the book are not only privileged white Americans, but also predominantly from the New York area.

This is not surprising due to the author’s circle of contacts and practice, but it would have added an enriching depth and perspective if there had been as much diversity with the adoptive parents as there is with the children who were adopted.

There is also only one story about an adoption not working out and the child being returned to the orphanage or childcare center. There may be fewer unsuccessful adoptions internationally (which is the primary focus of this collection), but on a local level there is a higher percentage (as much as 50% in some areas), in which the children do not stay in the adoptive home.

Whether you have children, are thinking of having children, thought about adopting or adopted hundreds, Carried in Our Hearts is an inspirational and timely collection. There is great care, hope, and love in these pages.

*****

Read complete review and more at New York Journal of Books.

Reviewer Gabriel Constans’s books include Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call; Good Grief, Love, Loss & Laughter; The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales; and The Last Conception (coming in 2014). He is the father of five children (two adopted) and is closely associated with the Rwandan Orphan’s Project and the Ihangane Project, both in Rwanda.

Family Survives Adoption Process

Keep your eye out for this book – This is Us: The New All-American Family by David Marin. It’s set to be published in September by Exterminating Angel Press and it’s not only good, but also frustrating, emotionally overwhelming and inspiring.

I was asked to review this book for The New York Journal of Books and am glad to have the privilege to do so. Without saying too much at this time, let it suffice to say that this is not only a story about a single man adopting 3 young children, but also about a broken Social Service system and someone who had the guts and determination to stay with it and go into the unknown, not only for the children, but because it began to define who he was and what he stands for.

We’ve had friends trying to adopt some siblings for over 2 years now and they’ve been put through the ringer (literally). Many of the instances described in this book ring a familiar bell, as they have experienced similar set-backs and bureaucratic back-stabbing that has no place in the process.

Don’t forget the title, This is Us.

Traveling With Pomegranates

Traveling With Pomegranates
by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor.
(Penguin Books, 2009)
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A mother and daughter travel to Greece, Turkey, France and home to South Carolina and provide their respective perspectives on the experience. Sue Monk Kidd (the well-known author of The Secret Life of Bees) is reflecting about her life and turning 50, while her daughter Ann navigates periods of depression, self-doubt and uncertainty about her future, her career and sense of self-worth. The consistent and similar traits that hold the story together, as well as both authors (one to the other), are the love; respect and admiration each have for the other. Sue writes, “The laughter has cracked the heaviness that formed around us like tight, brittle skin, and even now delivers me peeled and fresh to this moment, to Ann, to myself.”

Traveling With Pomegranates is a combination of memoir, journal writing and travelogue, which takes readers to places that will be familiar (externally and internally) and others that seem to fit for the author’s reflections alone. There are times when the prose is engaging, such as when Sue is speaking about turning 50 and says, “The spiritual composition of the Old Woman, not through words, but through the wisdom of a journey” is an apt summation of how she is seeing herself at that time. Many may find it hard to think of 50 as “old”, but it is used in this context as a starting point to look at change, old age, death and birth. At other times, it seems as if the writing should have been left in a private journal or in letters shared between mother and daughter. Not because of any private content or big secrets, but because it had no weight or meaning for a larger audience.

Sue has long had a kinship with the Black Virgin and used it as metaphor and object throughout her novel The Mermaid Chair. She speaks of it in length once again, on their visit to see the statue of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour in France. “As I look at her, my throat tightens and I dig through my bag for the travel-size Kleenex. Just in case. I’m not sure what moves me about her, only that she’s beautiful to me. Someone vacates a chair, and I sit down, staring at the flinty old Virgin until the tears really do start to leak. I rub them away and focus on the back of Ann’s brown hair. Ann’s fingers, I notice, are curled around the stubby piece of chain, and I wonder what she has decided about it. What I will decide about mine… I know suddenly what moves me about the Black Virgin of Rocamadour: She’s the Old Woman. It comes with some surprise, as if the bird on the altar has just pecked me on the forehead.”

While her mother is having the previous insights and feelings, Ann is writing about hers. “I glance over at my mother. Her eyes are closed, her fingers interlocked. I wonder what her prayers are about. Her novel? Her blood pressure? Peace on earth? The two of us praying like this to the Black Madonna suddenly washes over me, and I’m filled with love for my mother. The best gift she has given me is the constancy of her belief. Whatever I become, she loves me. To her, I am enough. I look up at Mary and concede what I am coming to know. I will become a writer.”

It is obvious that traveling together and writing about it were important for the author’s lives. Whether their reflections and insights are also of relevance for those outside their family will have to be left up to others to decide. This reader has mixed feelings about Traveling with Pomegranates, and doesn’t expect those feelings to be any less cloudy in the foreseeable future.

MORE REVIEWS

She-Rain

She-Rain: A Story of Hope by Michael Cogdill (Morgan James Publishing, 2010)

Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

She-Rain is like a gem that’s been pulled out of a pigsty. It contains some of the most eloquent prose and language since Shakespeare. Some will see elements of Pat Conroy’s writing that takes place in the Carolinas and Rick Bragg’s memoir of growing up in Alabama, though Mr. Cogdill’s character’s are more inclined to speak with a natural rhythm and cadence, which invites readers to be privileged to Frankie Locke’s heart and mind, as he grows up with his abusive addicted father and eventually finds solace, understanding and new ways to live from Mary Lizabeth and Sophia, who become his loves, friends and guardian angels.

There is no need to keep all of the author’s words wrapped tightly in secret between the book’s pages, though there are many secrets that come to light as the story unfolds. Here are a few lines that catch your breath and lavish you with voice, metaphor and nuance.

“Creases of his face flowed with streams of it like slug trail, easing off his chin.”

“In the throes of a drunk, or even the craving of one, his manners seldom rose above a steers’.”

“In the squeal of mosquitoes and flies drawn to sweat, I took in one final look at the vista from Granny’s pocket.”

“The day came so cold the air felt breakable.”

When Mary asks Frankie to dance, she says, “My dearest Mr. Locke, reckon I can borrow your frame for this struggle?”

Concerning feelings of shame for past deeds, Sophia tells Frankie, “I don’t see a solitary cause for disgrace. What shames you, from now on, will be up to you.”

The subtitle of She-Rain is A Story of Hope. It is really a story of redemption and courage to step into the unknown and break expectations and taboos. It is also about grief and loss and what we do with its tailings. The people involved in She-Rain seem so honest and real; they are almost palpable. In the acknowledgments section, the author states that some of the characters in the book are based on people he has known, loved and appreciated throughout his life. It would not be surprising to learn one day that the entire story and the incidents and experiences portrayed, were all based on actual events that took place in real time.

As you get to know Frankie, Mary Lizabeth, Sophia and their families and circumstances, you take a liking to them and find your self hoping, against all odds, for the best. Thus, are the abilities of Mr. Cogdill to shine a light on humanities worst and best traits with words so delicious you’ll want to have them for every meal. The last portion of the book found this reader sitting on their old torn up coach, cat underhand, with tears of sadness and joy streaming down his cheeks like a babe who’d been lost for dead in the woods and just been returned to loving arms.

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