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I’ve known war orphans, but I don’t speak for them, or for anybody else who’s been orphaned.I’m speaking only for myself, because orphanhood and transnational, transracial adoption are not ideas that sweep me up in flights of insanity or what Daum called a “predictable fireball” of Twitter overreaction, but the foundational experiences of my life.Little as they are, and so alone in the world, the Janes, Hucks, and Little Orphan Annies aren’t spunky, resourceful, accommodating, morally clear-sighted, and sweetly appealing just for their own self-preservation. Thanks to him, she could walk upright in life; thanks to her, he could persist in virtue.” Suffering and drama effect salvation and resolution, and Henry James’s Milly Theale spreads her tubercular wings to gather in the liars and conspirators of treacherous old Europe.
From the time I was 10, strangers wanted me to discuss my adoptive parents’ fertility, the cost of my adoption, the imagined poverty, sexual habits, and mortality of my birth mother, my genetic relationship to my sister, my wise advice to potential adopters, and my gratitude to parents and idle bystanders for my welcome in this country.
They’ve used my “success,” for which they also claimed credit, to shame the supposed failures of the less fortunate. For the sake of my parents, who love me, and whom I love, I’m kind.
I’ve known a war orphan who advocated for rainbow adoption coalitions; adoptees who’ve rejected their adoptive families in favor of their birth families, and vice-versa; adoptive gay and lesbian families, evangelical Christian families, families whose members’ appearances all blended seamlessly by race and coloring, abusive and loving families (none of these are mutually exclusive categories).
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy was orphaned, too.
You’re bringing a strange child into your house and home and you don’t know a single thing about him nor what his disposition is like nor what sort of parents he had nor how he’s likely to turn out.
Why, it was only last week I read in the paper how a man and his wife up west of the Island took a boy out of an orphan asylum and he set fire to the house at night—set it ON PURPOSE, Marilla—and nearly burnt them to a crisp in their beds.Anne, the titular orphan, escapes the Hopeton asylum and a life of neglect and drudgery, then defies Mrs.Lynde’s predictions by growing into a mainstay of her family and community, an academic overachiever, and the heartthrob of the cutest boy in town.It’s instantly, insistently dramatic, a shortcut to narrative tension.It’s the tragedy of the ancient Greek baby exposed on Mount Cithaeron: Will he or won’t he have a bittersweet reunion with his birth parents?This expectation is embedded in institutional rhetoric and policy.We’re expected to diversify communities, once we’ve assimilated; to educate others about cultures from which we’ve been sundered; to provide uncritical love, respect, and endorsement, not just to our adoptive families, but also to our adoptive nations, absolving them of wars, injustice, and inequality. At the age of seven, I knew an awful lot about Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, China, and the Philippines so that I could correct adult strangers about conflicts from which they assumed I’d been salvaged.This is not a “non-story” to anybody who, as a child, had to play the role of editor and explain, to some adult’s face, why his ideas about adoption were exploitative and banal.I don’t think Franzen is uniquely, or especially, oblivious of the nuances of adoption (or of the Iraq War).The literary orphan belongs to no world except that of narrative opportunity. ” “Decidedly he has had too much wine,” I thought; and I did not know what answer to make to his queer question: how could I tell whether he was capable of being re-transformed?— Charlotte Brontë, Rochester is not plotting to adopt Jane Eyre, but that shouldn’t stop him from getting some re-transformation out of her.