Monday, October 21, 2013

those who have a stake in the adoption narrative

As I wrote in an earlier post, one of the central ideas of Not Only The Things That Have Happened is the complex and inherently problematic nature of inter-country adoption. That idea has not been explored by most Indian reviewers to the extent I might have liked, but I have been pleased to see several US birth mother and adoptee rights blogs taking a serious looks at the book from that perspective.

Marijane Nguyen, a Taiwanese American adoptee and music therapist, had this to say in her review on her blog, Beyond Two Worlds:
Mridula Koshy’s debut novel, Not Only the Things That Have Happened, is not a tale for the faint-hearted. It is a story that explores the impact of adoption, oppression, loss and identity. Koshy’s prose and storytelling is hauntingly beautiful and speaks directly to the heart. It is not a quick read, but one that invokes thought, and as such, is an important and compelling work... An element of grief seeps heavily into much of the story, as most of the characters experience a great loss. I didn't mind the sadness, quite the opposite. There was an underlying rawness that pulled me deeper into the story and gave it a true sense of realism. (full review is here.)
Marijane followed up by interviewing me. You can read that exchange here

Suz Bednarz, a reunited birth mother and  founder of, a site and support group that provides reunion assistance to those separated by adoption, reviewed the book on her blog, Writing My Wrongs. Here's an excerpt:
I finished reading Mridula Koshy’s book Not Only the Things That Have Happened. I definitely recommend it, particularly for individuals experienced with trans-racial adoption. Koshy’s writing is thick and rich from the very first page. (full review is here.)
Jane Edwards wrote a lengthy review of the book at [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum. Her review also includes an interview. You can read the whole thing here.

This is the most nervous I've been in reading reviews of this book. I can't say how good it feels to be read seriously by those who I read as I was researching this book--the people who have a stake in this issue. Writing, like politics, is a fundamentally collective project. Developing new narratives for inter-country adoption is a task many, many people have been working on for a long time. I'm glad to see my book is contributing to that work.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Re-writing adoption

In doing the research for Not Only the Things That Have Happened, I read hundreds of news stories, books, articles and blogs about inter-country adoption. Some of what I read was from the point of view of adoptees, some from the point of view of first mothers or birth mothers. And there were blogs by adoptive parents, as well. From my wide reading on the subject I took away an overwhelming sense of the unspoken losses entailed in adoption. And again and again, I ran into the following quote, mostly on adoptee and birth mother sites:
Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.
- The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE.
My reading led me to conclude the orphan crisis - an oft repeated figure is 163 million orphans worldwide - is so necessary to the adoption industry that the industry has neither hesitated to create the figure in the statistical sense, nor, tragically, in the real sense; i.e., not just by doctoring the figures, but by actually separating children from their biological parents or other members of their biological families, thus making orphans of them. As for the figure, it is very much a doctored figure. Writing on  Fleas Biting, David Smolin, professor of law at Cumberland School of Law and the director for The Center for Children, Law, and Ethicshas this to say:
These global orphan estimates come from UNICEF, which is using a broad concept of “orphans and vulnerable children” which includes children who have lost one parent but are living with their other parent.   90% of these “orphans” are living with a parent, and thus certainly are not in need of a family through adoption, for they already have a family. 
The unequal distribution of economic and political power within the adoption triad - birth parents, the adoptee, and adoptive parents -  is one reason for the sort of corruption that won't hesitate to separate children from parents who very much want to keep them. There is very little acknowledgement of the lifelong trauma this separation can create in the child. There is next to no incentive to promote family preservation. Alleviating poverty, so families can remain intact, is neither lucrative, nor has it the necessary cultural or political mandate. The birth mother, who is lauded for putting the child's interest above all else and giving her child for adoption, thereby performing an ultimate sacrifice such as only a mother can, is banished from her child's life. Isn't this woman exactly the mother this child needs? If one recalls the story of Solomon's judgement, the mother who was brave enough to give up her child is rewarded by having her child returned to her arms.

The work to reform adoption is well underway. In 2010 Korea acquiesced to the campaign by international adoptees for the return of their lost citizenship.

More recently the Australian Government apologized to birth mothers for the forcible adoptions carried out in decades past. 

But the vulnerability of children who enter the adoption stream continues, as illustrated in the horrific practice of 'rehoming,' where adoptive parents hand off guardianship of children they no longer want with the ease with which they might any other transaction unsupervised by the law. Arrangements for the handover are made online between strangers who meet briefly in parking lots to effect the transfer. No one is watching. Megan Twohey has written an extensive series on 'rehoming' for Reuters, which you can read here.

This is not an easy issue. Adoption, like marriage or any other institution involving millions of people all over the world, cannot be summed up simply as  wholly 'good' or wholly 'bad'. But I do believe we need to reform the system of inter-country adoption such that children and their birth mothers have rights the don't currently enjoy. This will require us to be more open, more accountable, and probably more uncomfortable.

Anyone who follows politics knows that bad policies flow from bad narratives   At least in the short run, I think that to understand the complexities and ambiguities of this issue, we need new narratives as much as we need new policies.  Which is why I wrote a novel, not an essay.

I will keep adding to the list of blogs I have collected on the right. All of them were valuable to my research, all of them speak courageously about loss in adoption. In doing so they are all part of the attempt to rewrite the narrative of adoption.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

At The Ladies Finger, you can catch me chortling over Munro's win

 In Munro’s writing, generations live and breathe and die in the span of a few pages. Her short stories are celebrated for achieving what novels are charged with achieving and yet rarely do. They are celebrated for lighting up the landscape of our minds and our times. The contemporary novel – that unbearably bloated creation which confuses its desires with its ideas (think Franzen and Freedom) – has nothing on Munro or her form... full story here

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Recent Reviews: Biblio and some blog love from here and there

Not Only the Things That Have Happened has been reviewed in several places recently.
Here's Manasi Subramaniam, writing in Biblio:
Koshy’s writing is dense and layered in the way of an onion: peeling involves tears and eating involves pungency, but the stinging rawness of the process is ultimately rewarding, if disquieting...The constant intermingling of timelines is expertly handled by the author with precision and subtlety. The obliqueness of the many layers can be difficult to navigate, but in all its piercing poignancy the book has an edge of empathy that is perhaps the most endearing quality of Koshy’s writing. (Full review available on the author's blog, or at Biblio, registration required).

I'm also pleased to see the book getting read and reviewed among bloggers. 

Here is Amrit Sinha at Live Your Life:
The story telling is immaculate, brilliant at parts, and accompanied with a beauty that is raw and divine...Like a work of art this novel narrates its tale, and you are drawn hypnotically towards its innate charms. Do not disengage yourself; rather, drift with the flow, and delve deeper into the trance. This book is about emotions of love, loss, trust and more, and once you are done unraveling the numerous tales hidden within the pages, you ponder over the firm faith that served as Annakutty’s strength throughout her life - “If it is real, you can remember not only the things that have happened, but also the things that are going to happen.” (Full review here).
Here's Deboshree, writing at Of Paneer, Pulao, and Pune:
As the 352 pages of Mridula Koshy’s ‘Not Only The Things That Have Happened’ narrate a tale – and so compellingly at that – crypticness gives way to wonder, melancholy and loveliness...‘Not Only…’ is a treat. Befitting for those hours of solitude when life looms large with questions of existence, dependence and persistence. As Anna puts it herself –“If I could, I would go back to the beginning. But I can’t. I can only go the end.” And this tale, by all means, is one that deserves to be accompanied till the last page.  (Full review here.)
Yatin Gupta, at Me About My Thoughts writes:
Mridula Koshy’s this book is a poignant tale about the mother and the son. The love, regret, loneliness, sadness, the search of identity and various other emotions come out beautifully through her words. A reader may find it a bit difficult to get hang of this book in the beginning but once you get hold of the story, you will not be able to put the book down. (Full review here).
And finally, Fiza Patham at insaneowl:
Mridula Koshy has captivated me with her novel ‘Not Only the Things That Have Happened'...the text also allows the reader to indirectly be a sort of ‘back seat writer’ who completes the story with his or her own interpretations… as it is said, the author writes the book but it is indeed the reader that finishes it. I have been deeply affected by this book & I recommend this newly crafted design of words to all & sundry. (full review here).

You can find a summary of reviews so far here 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Reviewed in People

If you live in the US, you can get a signed copy of Not Only The Things That Have Happened here. You can find more reviews here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Short Fiction at the Hindu Litfest

Here's my discussion with Benyamin and Ashok Ferrey at the Hindu Literary Festival.  It's always so inspiring to listen to other writers who care deeply about short fiction. And these guys were fun also.

If you live in the US, you can get a copy of Not Only The Things That Have Happened here.