Friday, April 9, 2010

Two Little Girls: A Memoir of Adoption. Book Review

I have just finished reading 

a book about adoption that a friend of mine let me borrow. I feel very strongly about adoption. I've been wanting to adopt at some point in my life ever since I first entered a so-called "house of infants" (an orphanage for children of 3 or 4 years old and younger) as a teenager. I looked into those cute little faces that would stare back at me so intently and was shocked by their inability to smile. I was equally shocked later, when I learned that after "graduating" from an orphanage at 18, a huge percentage of the kids end up on the streets, doing drugs, drinking, etc.. A friend of mine, who's been working with orphans for some time now, once said that thanks to various sponsors, several of the good students at the orphanage she was connected with had several digital cameras each. They did not, however, have any clue about spending or saving money, cooking, cleaning, writing resumes and dressing for job interviews. All this to say - I do care about orphans, my heart aches for them; I do want to adopt one day. This is why I started reading the book.
Boy, was I in for some disappointment!
It was interesting and easy to read, I will give it that. I also have respect for this couple simply because they did choose to adopt. But I also feel like wringing their necks, choking them to near death, or, at least, telling them to mind their manners. As my darling hubby said, "Well, at least it's getting a response from you!"
It sure was getting a response - I was seething with rage as I was reading! Here are some issues I had with this book:

1.I knew before I started reading that adoption was a long, difficult, expensive process. I appreciate the author being honest about the kinds of obstacles they had to deal with. I do not, however, appreciate the whole "we have sacrificed so much to get this second child of ours! We are martyrs!" attitude.

2. The way Mrs. Reid talks about Russia, Ukraine, and the people there just tears my heart to pieces. I am a Russian citizen with Ukrainian heritage. I have not been to Russia - I lived there for 24 years. It is a very difficult country - corrupted, mismanaged, bundled up with red tape. But it is also hospitable, generous, beautiful. The same goes for Ukraine. The Reids didn't seem to notice anything good while they were there. They call it Trashcanistan. The author is aghast when their cheerful interpreter asks how they are liking her hometown.  "Your town is a pit!" she's thinking, but not saying.
They come in, seeming to know nothing about the local culture. They are disgusted with the apartment they will get to stay in, even though it's perfectly clean. They don't seem to grasp the idea that a family that normally lives there moved out (probably to stay with some friends or family members in a tiny crammed condo) so that they could stay there for a week. Yes, of course, they will be paid for it. But how many times have the Reids been willing to move out of their 3-story home in Chicago so that another family could stay there for $50 a day?
They seem to be constantly angry at the people who are trying to help them out. They refuse to feed the child the food that had been cooked especially for her. "OMG, she is going to feed her gruel!" (most probably, referring to something like wheat cream - the food all Soviet children were successfully raised on). Another sign of complete lack of cultural knowledge in the beginning of the book is not crucial, and it makes me laugh more than cringe. She writes, "Shriveled old women - called "babushkas" for their head scarves." Hello! Babushka is a Russian word for grandmother. All old ladies are referred to as babushkas. Yes, many of them do wear the head scarves, but it's the scarves that are named after the ladies (and only in English, btw) and not the other way around!
Mrs. Reid writes about women in Russia and Ukraine with something close to contempt. Yes, their manner of dressing is unusual for most foreigners, especially as well-off and polished as the author herself, but, once again, a little bit of cultural digging would have explained that phenomenon to her.
Basically, the Reids present the very image of Americans Eastern European people have (I wonder why!) - rich, spoiled, snobbish, self-centered, unaware. The only thing that doesn't match the stereotype is the weight.  The generous gifts of peanut butter and handwash add to the idea.

3. Some things about the child-parent relationship seemed disturbing to me, but I really shouldn't comment on them, because, being childless, I don't have experience in raising children.

If you would like to read about the horrors of adoption and international traveling - this is a perfect book for you.
If you are somewhat culturally sensitive, poor, or religious - you may not care so much for it.

P.S. I sincerely hope the Russians and Ukrainians mentioned in this book will never get to read it. If I were them, I'd be outraged, hurt, and embarrassed.

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