The seven of us were all born within nine years so that makes us close. We are all part of the same generation, which gives us the same pop culture touchstones from our childhood. The shared — albeit separate — experience of being an adopted child helped the bonding process. So does a sense of humour which runs through all seven children like a gene and, of course, the shared parents. The only rule we have is that none of us can ask for something she cannot give.
Scattered across the US, and rooted in their own worlds by economic circumstances and family responsibilities, the siblings kept in touch via social media. There were occasions when two or three or four of them found themselves in the same city. The book began its life as a family project before the creative process gradually fell exclusively to Mary. She was happy to accept the responsibility, although she was at pains to protect the privacy and to some extent feelings of her family.
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The names of her birth parents have been changed, although she is as unsparing in admiration of her mother as she is cool about the father who to all intents and purposes abandoned his family. I understand them both, my mother in particular, who had a lot of struggles in her life and who has come through them remarkably well. These days, the family is more geographically dispersed than ever, from New Jersey in the east to Hawaii in the west.
Relationships are good, probably better than in most families it is safe to assume, in part because the years of separation serves as reminder of what it is they now have. So, is it happy ever after? Mary shakes her head.
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Sure, we all meet and get back together again, but it is still complicated. Bastards is published in paperback by W. Ltd on 5 August. Facebook Twitter Pinterest. But no more: These days, there are plenty of psychological thrillers to pick from — many of them more sinister and more spine-chilling than Big Little Lies or even The Shining. Not that we're knocking either of those authors. It's just that there are so many stories to choose from, which you already know if you, like millions of other readers, rapidly inhaled novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train over the last few years.
Here's the thing about suspense thrillers, though: Once you've reached the end and all the secrets have spilled out, it's not always fun to go back and read them again. You need new mysteries to unravel — new plotlines and characters to make the hair on your neck stand on end.
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Luckily, there is no shortage of these sorts of books. Of course, that may say much more about me than it does about the e-group participants. Nevertheless, it does raise an important issue about how information about Mei would be interpreted, particularly if I wrote about her for an uninformed mainstream audience. And it raises the issue of how Mei would receive such interpretations. If I failed to communicate effectively what I intended to say to a small group of informed parents, how could I possibly convey the essence of Mei to a general audience?
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I feel pole-axed by the dangers lurking on either side of the adoption memoir tightrope: the risks of making too much of the dark side of her beginnings or of swinging too far in the opposite direction and sentimentalising and discounting the difficulties of her early years. How could a book be written that honours the truth of our lives, respects Mei and the reality of her toddlerhood, while adequately expressing my love for her? Sentimentalisation is a real trap for memoir writers. Memoir requires both honesty and a sense of authenticity.
The hazard is that such identification and solidarity leads to sentimentality and is established at the expense of the people written about. How does one avoid sentimentalisation? And avoid lurching into hyper-persuasiveness? By sticking to the truth as far as possible, in as emotionally honest way as possible, while anchoring the adoption story within the social, political and cultural context of China at the turn of the millennium and its policies and practices in family planning.
Adequate contextualisation, both personal regarding our small family and sociocultural and political, would reduce the chances of Mei being misinterpreted, misunderstood or judged unfairly. Which leads us back to the basic conundrum of how to write truthfully while respecting privacy.
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At this point in my vacillations, the whole idea of memoir is looking rather hard. I find that argument appealing, but again I am led back to where these reflections started. In the end, the only way I can proceed is if I can persuade myself that it would be possible to write this memoir in such a way that it would play a useful role in helping Mei to construct her own history, her own narrative, her own sense of self and identity, as well as contribute to improving the awareness of the ins and outs of international adoption in the wider community.
In our particular case, I am unpersuaded. According to Jane Brown, a US-based social worker and adoptive mother who runs empowerment workshops around the world for adopted children, there are some basic rules for discussing personal adoption information outside the realm of the family.
This includes issues such as:. Also, any details about what condition they were found in if they were ill or improperly dressed, any problems they had once they were in the orphanage. Brown Regarding the common information that most Chinese-born adoptees share, such as that they were cared for in institutions before being adopted, Brown says:. It can also proactively give the information correctly before the other children start making up fantasies that can hurt and embarrass our children.
But this advice is limited to everyday interactions in the lives of adopted families, e. I don't think that they can really give us permission to reveal it to others until adulthood when they are financially and emotionally more independent of us - and can freely say whether it is all right for us to share none, part, some, or all of it. I do not want to use Mei. I do not want to turn her into a commodity. I do not want her to feel used by me for my own professional advancement. I want it always to be clear to her that I did not adopt her to use her for personal gain. At the same time, I am aware of her need for protection.
I do not want to betray her shyness or her privacy.
Nor do I want to create anything that might undermine her or that might later limit her potential. While I find his argument influential - that I could rely on my own best self and use professional skills to get the job done - I stumble once again over the hurdle that Mei is not an adult. Nor is she deceased. She is a minor in my care, with unique needs and her future stretching out before her.
In my view - and in my heart - my primary responsibility is to her, not to literature … Sigh … Where did I put that unfinished novel? Mei is a pseudonym.
See, for example, Lawson For expressions of similar concerns, see Couser Brown, J Personal communication, 10 June return to text. Brown, J Personal communication, 20 June return to text. Carey, J Whose story is it, anyway? Ethics and interpretive authority in biographical creative nonfiction, TEXT Myerson J Living with teenagers — 3 kids, 2 parents, 1 hell of a bumpy ride , London: Headline Review return to text.
Sacks, O, The man who mistook his wife for a hat: and other clinical tales , New York: Touchstone return to text. A former journalist, she has worked in print, television and radio.