Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Book Review

One-line blurb: Xinran gathers the stories of women she has met who had to abandon, give up, or abort their baby daughters in China.

One-line concluding message: We must not underestimate the pain and suffering that any mother who has given up a child endures.

I love Xinran - she is one of my favorite authors.  This is the fourth book of hers that I have read.
It's a very serious book that deals with a very serious premise and tone and at times, graphic descriptions.

For some reason, I picked this book up casually.  I'd been reading a slew of young adult fairy tale books and longed for some non-fiction.  Once I realized the seriousness of the content of the book, I had to put it down and then approach it in a better mindset.  Xinran is a master storyteller, including you in her own life and in the lives the women she meets in such a way that you are re-living that moment with her - you can feel the awkward silences, hear the nervous clearing of throats.  Although I had known something of the situation with girls in China, I had not realized the variety of circumstances or methods that daughters were abandoned, etc.  The book definitely had a clear purpose in letting adopted Chinese girls know a little of their backgrounds.

The book left me personally very sad and frustrated with the culture.  Not just the culture that demands that rural families have a male heir to provide for you in the afterlife, or the culture where appearances must be kept up and so unwed mothers must give up their babies, or even the culture that forces parents to spend significant time away from the home to invest in their country/work.  I do feel for the situations of the various mothers, and for the tens of thousands of babies who don't make it and for the thousands who get adopted overseas.  But I'm also left asking, "Surely, if such a culture devastates and haunts the mothers, the fathers are affected in some way too?  And the grandparents who demand grandsons?  And the sons who are born at the sacrifice of their sisters?"

So, in the end, what do we tell our adopted daughters about their birth mothers?  Probably not the truth, until they are old enough to handle the gruesome details of a harsh reality.  If the letters in the appendix are any indication, you tell your daughters a happy story about how their mothers really did love them and didn't want to give them up.  You spend your time investing in Chinese history and culture so these daughters will love their mother country and their Chinese mothers.  Beautiful sentiments, but I think, in the end, everyone is still left asking questions with no answers, and hurting without an antidote.

Do I recommend this book?  Yes, with reservations.

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