Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I'm Reading Now: "Forever Lily"

Made in China
Author shares heartwarming story in ‘Forever Lily’

by Alison Woo

Every year, roughly 1 million girls are abandoned by their families in China. This staggering statistic is a direct result of the government’s one-child-per-family policy set by the communists in 1979 to limit the nation’s growing population, which is currently straining at the seams with 1 billion people. However, the culture’s predisposition to value male heirs over females has left a growing tragedy on China’s hands. In an effort to stem the tide, the government allowed parents to give up their unwanted babies for international adoption in the mid ’90s. American families adopted approximately 6,493 children by 2006, according to the U.S. State Department.

The numbers paint a broad picture. But first-time author Beth Nonte Russell puts it into personal perspective in her riveting and impossible-to-put-down memoir, “Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China.”

Unexpected mother, author
Russell was a 30-something psychologist living in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and three stepchildren when her neighbor, Alex, asked her to accompany her to China where Alex planned to adopt a child. The story takes a dramatic turn and soon Russell finds herself embroiled in the midst of an emotional roller coaster. Alex is ambivalent about wanting the baby and suffers a nervous breakdown, asking Russell to take the baby. Just when Russell warms to the idea, Alex wants the baby back. Set with the backdrop of the already cumbersome and heartbreaking adoption process where scores of babies are left to die and wither away unattended, the story ultimately has a happy ending.

Though the author wasn’t a working writer at the time she visited China, she’s a skillful narrator who displays elegant prose that is thoughtful and insightful, both into her mind’s own inner workings and the unfolding situation. “When I returned from China, I knew beyond a doubt that I would write this story and try to share it with others,” she said. “There was a strong urge to tell others about the abandoned children that I had seen in the orphanage there; I felt obligated to be their voice. Thoughts of those children would not let me go, and I began writing the book a year after I returned.”

“Forever Lily” raises real-life questions that prompt the reader to explore ideas of what constitutes a family, and how spiritual bonds can sometimes grow deeper than physical ties. The story sends strong messages of love, hope and inspiration that readers will find meaningful whether they’re considering adoption or not. It’s one of the finest nonfiction books I’ve read in a decade.

Sharing the experience
Russell’s psychological training gave her the necessary tools to break down the complex emotions that accompany adoptions, but it also gives her a unique way to approach the memoir. “With ‘Lily’ I did not set out to write a memoir to tell ‘about’ my life; instead, I hoped to give the reader a chance to share the experience and bridge the gap of subjectivity,” she said. “My primary intention was to let the reader enter my own internal psychological, emotional and spiritual process as it took place in the context of this particular event.”

Ultimately, Russell and her husband adopted the unwanted child and a few years later returned to China to adopt a second daughter. She sees herself not as their “adoptive” parent but as their mother, in a complete sense. But while she wants her children to know about where they came from, she is preparing them for their own unique futures. “In my view, I am raising two American daughters who happen to have been born in China,” Russell said.

“Forever Lily” is available at booksellers everywhere.