Tag Archives: book review

Akin to the Truth: Identity and the Adopted Child

Today I am hosting my very first post on a Wow! Women on Writing blog tour. I thought it might be a good idea to participate in something like this on the host side before I decided whether I wanted to get involved in having one myself. And, I hoped, I might just get to read an interesting book.

I wasn’t disappointed. Paige Adams Strickland’s memoir Akin to the Truth concerns a subject I know very little about – adoption. It’s an entertaining story of a woman’s youth, adolescence, and young adulthood, but what is perhaps most fascinating about it is what it teaches us about the nature of identity, of a child’s need to know from whence he or she came.

Perhaps the first aspect of Paige’s memoir that one notices is what might be described as a veritable obsession with family. This is not what I would have anticipated from an adoption story – on the contrary, I might have expected instead to read about a child who distanced herself from her adoptive family, who, subconsciously, perhaps, rejected them. But rarely will you see so much time devoted in a memoir to the writer’s relations: parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins even; a treasure trove containing detailed descriptions of both the positive and negative characteristics of each person in Paige’s extended family. And of those individuals with whom Paige felt a special bond, such as her grandmothers, we receive an even more comprehensive and personalized view.

Of course, the importance of family to Paige is not necessarily related to the fact of her being adopted, but it certainly seems probable, and that is because most of us, whether we choose to admit it or not, tend to take family for granted. In fact, to a certain extent, family relationships are deemed to be the ones we are permitted to take for granted, because family is built on unconditional love.

But for the adopted child, there is, perhaps, no unconditional love. Paige’s doubts and fears about her place within her adoptive family are never assuaged by being reassured that her adoptive parents “chose” her. No, she takes no comfort from the notion that she was specially selected; rather, she sees it instead as having been picked from a litter like a puppy. There is, to her, something dehumanizing in the manner of her adoption, almost as if she is not – or does not envision herself to be – quite a real person.

Her sense of self is affected accordingly. It becomes apparent early on in the memoir that the young Paige suffers from poor self-esteem, which is not truly warranted by any failings on her part; but rather results from an insecurity that seems essential to her being, an insecurity which, one wonders, may derive from being adopted. Throughout her youth, Paige struggles with her deep, dark secret – that she is “different” because she is adopted.

It doesn’t end there. Fear of loss runs through the memoir like a continuous, interwoven thread – loss of friends, loss of homes, loss of pets, loss of family members. Any youngster will have difficulty coping with the death of a beloved family member, but for the adopted child, perhaps, the loss is felt even more keenly. For Paige, certainly, the deaths of various members of her extended family seem to hit home particularly hard. Pop psychologists might explain her feelings as “abandonment issues,” but I suspect that it goes deeper than that. As devastating as these deaths may be, perhaps Paige’s reaction to them transcends the loss of a loved one, and goes deeper, down even into the determination of one’s own identity. It signifies perhaps more than the loss of a loved one, but a loss of a vital piece of one’s self.

It struck me this past Father’s Day, when I ran across this post by Penny Lane entitled “Who Were You, Dad?” The post fascinated me because of how much my own story has in common with that of this stranger I had never met before. While the writer herself was not adopted, she, too, had an absentee father, and was raised by her single mother. Yet she has no complaints about her upbringing. She doesn’t berate her biological father, or lament that he was never around to offer her the support a growing girl needs from the adult man in her life. No, she has but one question: “Who were you, Dad?”

Who were you? What were you like? What kinds of things did you enjoy? How did your voice sound? Did you look like me? Did you act like me?

These are the same kinds of questions that recur throughout Akin to the Truth. And they are the same questions that lie at the root of Paige’s ultimate decision to attempt to locate her birth parents. She simply wants to know who they were.

Maybe there isn’t so much difference, after all, between the adopted child and the child who never knew one or both of his or her parents. The distinction may be a matter of degree rather than of kind. Because the questions they ask are the same; the issues with which they struggle are the same – who were you?

And this, at heart, is Paige’s story. There is little anger in her over being given up for adoption, little judgment on her mother or father, little desire to be returned to a life with some idealized fantasy couple, à la Little Orphan Annie. There is, perhaps, a bit of insecurity, for it is evident, at the end, when she learns her mother’s story, that she feels a sense of relief in knowing that she was, in fact, wanted. But most of her curiosity, most of her desire to learn about her biological mother and father, stem not from a desire to alleviate her own fears and insecurities, but simply from a desire to know. Who were you? What were you like? What kinds of things did you enjoy? Did you look like me? Did you act like me?

A child determines his or her identity in numerous complex ways. His or her sense of self is not created solely by looking in the mirror, but by examination of the community in which he or she resides, in its city and country and church and school, but most of all, in its family. It should therefore come as no surprise that a child who is missing one or more of these vital pieces of information about who they are – or who they can be – should yearn to know. What child does not long to learn, “Where did I come from?”

Curiosity about one’s birth parents, the desire to meet and to know them, does not belong solely to the adopted child. It is a desire that all children have, including those with an absent parent, or those who have lost one. An adopted child’s interest in knowing his or her birth parents, in learning their story, is in no way a reflection on the adoptive parents, any more than a child’s interest in knowing his or her biological father is a reflection on the stepfather. It is not about ingratitude, or evaluation of a caregiver; rather it is about one’s own self-image, about determining where one sits in this grand world of ours. These are questions that must be answered in order for a child to feel complete and fulfilled. The conclusion of Paige’s memoir, which is, by and large, a happy one, clearly illustrates the satisfaction that a child can derive from finally learning who she is and where she belongs.

What lesson may we draw from this? When Paige was growing up, there was – and perhaps, to an extent, still is – stigma associated with being adopted, although this is perhaps stronger in the child’s own mind than in the view of the world. Adoptive parents today still struggle with the decision of when and how to inform their child that he or she is adopted. The new trend towards open adoption may perhaps alleviate some of the pain of this decision – and may also, in its way, alleviate the pain a child suffers from not knowing his or her parents.

By extrapolation, we might also infer that the same treatment ought to apply to children of single parents, both those who have lost a parent due to separation, and those who have lost a parent to death. It is a mistake to attempt to “shield” the child from the truth about the guardian who died or abandoned them, for this, in the child’s mind, can only lead to deeper fears and more perturbing unanswered questions. What if my father was a criminal? What if my mother had a genetically transmitted disease? In the absence of the truth, these are the kinds of questions Paige poses to herself. The real truth is rarely more sinister than a child’s imagination.

It is not always possible, of course, for a child to be reunited with a long-lost parent. For many of us, such a reunion is neither possible, nor even desirable – either from the child’s point of view, or from the parent’s. Yet, as Paige’s story illustrates, that should not deter those with knowledge of the biological parent from sharing that information with the child. Indeed, it is only through this open discourse that the child may begin to feel truly at home. Not only with his or her adoptive family, but within his or her own skin.


Official blurb for Akin to the Truth:

Akin to the Truth

Akin to the Truth is Paige’s own memoir about her adoption. In 1961, adoption was still one of those private and taboo topics. Not much identifying information was provided for adoptive families or for birth parents by the agencies. In Ohio, records were sealed forever. Adoptees and birth mothers were supposed to be thankful for the adoptive family and never look back. Adoptive parents thought their deal was signed and sealed. As a child and teenager, growing up adopted was like a Scarlet Letter “A” if anyone ever found out the truth. At least, that’s the way author, Paige Strickland felt as she muddled through social situations and other interpersonal relations. She always loved her adoptive family, but realized she wanted not just more, but what other “regular born” people had: real roots, accurate health history and authentic family lore. She wanted freedom from shame, more dignity, authenticity and a full identity. Then, through random chance, a local TV talk show in 1987 revealed that certain records were open if you were born before 1964 in the state of Ohio, and the author’s life would never be the same after that program. During her quest, (pre computer), for her identity, her adoptive father struggled with his own self image and sense of belonging, so both father and daughter embarked on separate and unique parallel missions to find what was missing in their lives. This is the story of how being adopted affected Paige growing up in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. It shows how one adoptee has embraced and learned to view family more globally. She tells the saga of a loving but dysfunctional family of both blood and choice, trying to cope with typical and not so typical life alterations during the decades of social revolution and free love. She learns that the most fascinating family stories are discovered by those passionate enough to question and search.

Paperback: 285 Pages
Publisher: Idealized Apps, LLC (September 8, 2013)
ASIN: B00F28TM86
Twitter Hashtag: #AkinStrickland

Paige Adams Strickland

About the Author: Paige Adams Strickland, a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio, is married with two daughters. Her first book, Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity, is about growing up in the 1960s-80s (Baby-Scoop Era) and searching for her first identity. It is also the story of her adoptive family and in particular her father’s struggles to figure out his place in the world while Paige strives to find hers. After hours she enjoys family and friends, pets, reading, Zumba ™ Fitness, gardening and baseball.

Find Paige online:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AkintotheTruth
Twitter – https://twitter.com/plastrickland23
Linkedin – https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=106898209&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile
Akin to the Truth Website – http://www.akintothetruth.com/

Amazon links:
eBook: http://www.amazon.com/Akin-Truth-Memoir-Adoption-Identity-ebook/dp/B00F28TM86/
Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Akin-Truth-Memoir-Adoption-Identity/dp/0989948811/

Book Review: Hyperbole by Ryan Parmenter

Some time ago, I decided it might be fun to start doing reviews of contemporary authors’ work. This is actually kind of a stretch for me because 1) I acquire most of my books used for $2/bag at my local library’s twice-annual sale and 2) It’s rare for me to read a book that’s less than ten or twenty years old. However, I see so many free e-book promotions on Twitter nowadays that it seems a shame not to read some more modern works, and in addition, I thought it would be the best way to get a handle on what’s happening in the indie author community.

The only problem is, most of the books I’ve acquired so far – how can I say this politely – stink. It turns out that there are, in fact, some solid reasons why indie authors don’t get the respect that traditionally published ones do, and it’s precisely because so much of the work that’s being released is so poorly done. It’s not just bad writing; I’ve begun books that were so rife with grammatical and spelling errors that they made me want to contact the authors and beg them to let me edit their work just so no one else on the planet would ever have to be exposed to such abominable English. Oftentimes you can see the beginnings of a good story, but the mechanics simply aren’t there to support it. And to me, I don’t care how great the plot is – if it’s torture for me to try to muddle my way through the bad language, I’m not going to force myself to keep reading. And it makes me very sad just how many of these books I’ve had to stop reading.

Hyperbole by Ryan Parmenter is the exception. An exception, and a truly exceptional work. Here is a book that is so professional, on every level, that it is virtually indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. Indeed, any publisher should have been honored to print it.

I don’t know why Parmenter chose to go the indie route instead. Perhaps he suffered the usual indignities heaped upon debut authors seeking publication, or perhaps, like me, he simply tired of all the waiting. What I do know is that Hyperbole has moved on to the second round for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. And having read the book, I can tell you that this doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Parmenter has dubbed his novel “the most violent comedy since The Bible.” While this description does not do it justice, it does paint a very accurate picture of the author’s satirical and incredibly witty sense of humor, which prevails throughout the book. There are countless passages that are so well-written, so brutally clever, that there were times in which I was jealous, actually envious that he wrote them and I didn’t. And that is perhaps the greatest compliment one author can pay to another.

Don’t get me wrong. Although there are moments that will make you laugh out loud, the book has its dark side, too, and a very dark one it is. Hyperbole takes place in the aftermath of the tragedy of “7/11,” in which Washington D.C. was obliterated, leaving a tremendous vacuum not just in the government, but in the lives of everyday Americans. The results of this catastrophe? A group of characters who might best be described as “slackers,” youngish people who lack drive or purpose and spend a great deal of time getting high. Indeed, whether it was intentional or not, there’s a definite Generation X/Y sensibility about the book. It reminded me quite forcibly of my own youth, in which many of us never bothered to make long-term plans because we figured that with the Cold War and all, the world was going to end before we grew up anyway. Imagine our surprise when the Soviet Union broke up and we suddenly had to find something to do for the next several decades, and you’ll understand how lost the characters in the novel feel in their own meaningless lives.

Yet they do find meaning. In strange, circuitous, unexpected ways, Harland and his friends somehow manage to do something, to contribute something to their vastly altered universe. And although they ultimately fail to accomplish their intended goal, such as it is, in the end what matters is that they make the effort. They find a reason to be, to continue to be. And that, it turns out, is enough.

Some readers might not enjoy Hyperbole. They may not appreciate the often dark sense of humor, or they may be offended by the rampant pot smoking, or they may not even care for the somewhat roundabout path by which the plot and the fate of the characters unfolds. But those readers will be the exception. And even to them I say, give it a try. Whether you like it or not, it’s an important book and it’s worth reading, even if it’s only to see, to feel what many people in this country are feeling. To understand the apathy and hopelessness of our generation, to comprehend how we, too, are struggling to find meaning. And most importantly, to recognize, as Hyperbole does, that the choice of who we want to be, of how we want to live, is ultimately ours. We merely must choose to make it.

It’s not a book for everyone. But everyone should read it.

Website: http://ryanparmenter.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RyanCParmenter
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+RyanparmenterHyp/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HyperboleByRyanParmenter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19505994-hyperbole
Shelfari: http://www.shelfari.com/books/37087766/Hyperbole
LibraryThing: https://www.librarything.com/work/14802611
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H1C8SE0/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0991107004/
CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/4447067
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hyperbole-A-Novel/dp/B00GSLB8AG/
Audible: http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/Hyperbole-A-Novel-Audiobook/B00GS1SZMK/
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/hyperbole-a-novel-unabridged/id761230640?uo=4


Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz

Hess, Rudolf, Commandant of Auschwitz, tr. Constantine FitzGibbon, World Publishing Company: Cleveland and New York, 1951.

Commandant of Auschwitz combines the autobiography which Rudolf Hoess wrote while awaiting trial at Nuremberg as well as a number of official statements he gave to his interrogators regarding other SS personnel with whom he had significant contact. There is a lot I could say about this book, because Hoess, rather surprisingly, has a number of interesting ideas and observations, particularly in regards to the concept and execution of imprisonment and the lesser-known victims of the concentration-camp system, but for the moment I’ll confine myself to what he has to say about conducting the affairs of Auschwitz.

Hoess makes no bones about his political beliefs; he unwaveringly avers his continued allegiance to the Nazi Party, and, unlike many Nazis, who denied complicity with the concept behind or execution of the Holocaust, even suggests that he would have been in favor of it were it vital to the cause:

“Whether this mass extermination of the Jews was necessary or not was something on which I could not allow myself to form an opinion, for I lacked the necessary breadth of view.” p. 160.

However, what is most fascinating about the book is that as it progresses, it becomes clear that Hoess was, generally speaking, against the customary Nazi treatment of the Jews, not out of compassion for their situation or any sense of wrongdoing in causing their suffering, but for purely bureaucratic reasons.

Thus he complains about the nature of the site, which lacked sufficient water, drainage and building materials for the size it was later to assume; he argues against the massive overcrowding, which caused disease to run rampant and had terrible psychological effects upon the inmates, which he believed led to rapid deterioration in their health; against the incompetence and maliciousness of the guards under his control, whose approach to corporal punishment he felt was detrimental to the objective of maintaining peace in the camp while it conducted its operations. He berates the Food Ministry for constantly reducing rations during the course of the war, not because he had pity for the starving concentration-camp dwellers, no, but because it prevented him from maintaining an adequately-functioning work force. The selection process itself, he argues, was faulty at its core:

“If Auschwitz had followed my constantly repeated advice, and had only selected the most healthy and vigorous Jews, then the camp would have produced a really useful labor force and one that would have lasted.” p. 176.

The implication is that more Jews should have been sent immediately to the gas chambers rather than being corralled into the work details if the goal of attaining adequate war-workers was to be achieved. In other words, if Hoess had had his way, the concentration camps would have contained a large contingent of healthy, well-fed Jews and many more dead ones.

Hoess relates anecdotes of the desperate starvation of the camp residents; of inmates being attacked and beaten by their fellows for a crust of bread, of cannibalism among Russian prisoners-of-war. He assures us that his war-time prisoners became little different from civilian criminals, unhesitant to sacrifice their fellows in order to improve their own condition; in order to get an edge on survival. He speaks of the attachment of the Jews to the members of their own families; of the efforts of the mothers to calm their children as they walked into the gas chambers or to throw them out of the doors, pleading for their young lives, just before they are sealed. And then he tells a story of one Special Detachment Jew who had been assigned to the burning of corpses. When the man pauses for a moment in the course of his labors, Hoess inquires of the Capo in charge as to the cause. The Capo informs him that one of the dead in the pile is the man’s wife.

But following his moment’s pause, the man has already gone back to work. And that is when it struck me, that in spite of the distinction between the powerful and the powerless, what a terrible similarity exists between the Commandant and the prisoner. The Commandant does not deal with people; he deals with issues, problems, supply chains, bureaucracy. He is almost entirely detached from the suffering of those under his care. And likewise the inmate has detached himself from his own suffering; he is unable to acknowledge or permit it to penetrate him. Instead he merely attends to his work, the work that, ironically, makes him free, even as the sign above the gate so illusively promised. Detachment means survival; and the ability to detach oneself from one’s circumstances is perhaps a necessary adaptation. For as long as people are able to view one another without acknowledging their humanity, their personhood, they will treat their fellows cruelly. And in order to endure that cruelty, those who suffer from it will have to become like their oppressors: empty of compassion and feeling, intent only on bare survival.

It is now well-known that many Nazis who were recruited into concentration-camp or extermination services were unable to endure it; indeed, many were transferred, upon request, from participation in the brutalities that accompanied occupation and deportation into other branches of service. Considerable care and effort were expended in making exterminations tolerable for the executioners as well as their victims; as horrendous as the mass gassings were, they were viewed as more humane, less wearing on the soul than the mass shootings which had theretofore been employed. Hoess describes how numerous of his subordinates approached him, expressing deeply-troubled thoughts over the mass exterminations; how he deemed it his duty to appear unmoved. Not all of the Nazis were able to view their captives as chattel, as mere bodies to be fed and housed and employed and killed and burned, any more than some of their victims were able to forget the essential humanity of their captors. Consider Hoess’ description of the Allied air raids, which brought terror to the skies over Germany and the occupied lands:

“Attacks of unprecedented fury were made on factories where prisoners were employed. I saw how the prisoners behaved, how guards and prisoners cowered together and died together in the same improvised shelters, and how the prisoners helped the wounded guards.

During such heavy raids, all else was forgotten. They were no longer guards or prisoners, but only human beings trying to escape from the hail of bombs.” p. 183.

Humans, one and all. Hoess is not one of the Nazis who viewed the Jews as somehow less than human, and therefore worthy of extinction. He sincerely believes that they were a threat to what he sees as the truly German way of life, and that the measures that were taken against them were necessary in order to preserve the integrity of the nation. He is therefore offended by the vicious propaganda propagated by publications such as Der Stürmer, believing its exaggerated attacks upon Jewish morals and behavior capable of backfiring and creating sympathy for the Jews. He argues that the nations conquered by Germany during the Second World War should have been treated with greater respect and kindness, which would have unmanned much of the resistance which grew following the invasion. And finally, in the ultimate expression of utter disregard for the unadulterated evil imposed upon the unoffending peoples of the world, Hoess at last concedes that the Holocaust should not have occurred. But listen to his reasons why:

“I also see now that the extermination of the Jews was fundamentally wrong. Precisely because of these mass exterminations, Germany has drawn upon herself the hatred of the entire world. It in no way served the cause of anti-Semitism, but on the contrary brought the Jews far closer to their ultimate objective.” p. 198.

The Holocaust was wrong, according to Hoess, not owing to fundamental human principles of kindness and decency, or compassion for one’s fellows, but because it did not serve the Nazi cause. Which eerily implies that he believes that it would have been “right” had it only served the purpose for which it was intended. Is that, too, an essentially human characteristic? To be able to justify the means, if they achieve what is perceived to be a desirable end?

Lithograph by Leo Haas

Lithograph by Leo Haas (1901-1983), Holocaust artist, who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. From the Center for Jewish History – no known copyright restrictions.