Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: China Ghosts by Jeff Gammage

Oh, how I loved this book. I started it Sunday, finished it today (Tuesday). The author (like me) is a journalist, so maybe that's partly why I'm drawn to it. He balances his personal adoption story with history of China and Chinese adoption and insights into Chinese culture.

Our stories are remarkably similar. His daughter Jin Yu was completely non-responsive when he and his wife first met her. His description of Jin Yu in those first days sounded so much like Quinn, who just stared at the ceiling, the lights, the fan - anything but at us. His daughter, a 2000 NSN adoption, came with an unexpected and unexplained oozing head injury, which heightened their concern. My concern was more inward, and took the form of me rising at 4 a.m. to Google signs of autism.

Jin Yu popped out of her shell upon rising one morning. Quinn came out of his during a visit to the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, when he was surrounded by tourists with cameras and became an instant celebrity with his blonde mother. Jin Yu, adopted at 2, advanced by leaps and bounds, talking and walking while still in China. Quinn, adopted at 16 months, did not outgrow his delays as I naively expected he would. I went from panic to dull fear to the mostly comfortable realization that he is on his time table, not mine.

What really fascinated me about the book was author Jeff Gammage's constant feelings of guilt for taking his daughters from their homeland (he and his wife adopted a second girl two years after Jin Yu, who is the focus of the book) and his constant awareness of their missing birth mothers - his family even puts an extra candle on the girls' cakes each year to honor their birth mothers. Reading his story, I felt guilty, too - but the source of my guilt is that I DON'T feel guilty. I am forever, deeply indebted to China for bringing Quinn and me together, and I suspect his birth parents must think of him every day. But I hate to admit, I don't think of them every day. Gammage asks his daughter regularly about her birth mother; I talk to Quinn about China and about adoption, but not about his birth mother. Not yet, anyway.

The book really made me wonder - again - about what is right and what is wrong -- and if there even IS a right or wrong when it comes to adoptive parenting. I definitely will think more about Quinn's birth parents after reading "China Ghosts," and I think that's a good thing. What I do with the product of that thinking, I'm not sure yet.

I highly, highly recommend this book. I found the writing to be smooth and compelling, and the author's voice to be honest and open and not at all sanctimonious, as has been the case in some adoption memoirs I have read.

Of every book I've read so far with an adoption theme, this is the one I enjoyed the most, and the one that made me think.


China Dreams said...

It sounds like a thought-provoking book. I, too, constantly feel lucky to be entrusted with Aidan and I have to say that I don't give his birth mother a lot of thought. I do give his foster family a lot of thought and wonder what happened to his big "brother" who was taken away on the bus when Aidan was too. Is he adopted? Is he out there wondering why he left home for an orphanage?

I've also studied the Chinese culture a lot so I have a perspective on the one child policy and Chinese philosophy that is not based on adoption by foreigners. It helps to understand them if we don't study them through a Western lens; Quinn's mother is probably not wondering about you every day.

Jill said...

Interesting. That's a point he makes repeatedly - that Jin Yu's mother is certainly thinking about her and her new parents as often as he thinks about her. I was also interested that he not once mentions a birth father. Still, though, I thought it was a really great book!