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Thoughts on “The English American”, a novel by Alison Larkin

Posted by berkeleyscot on April 20, 2008

Alison expresses many wise thoughts on adoption in this book. I wanted to use a highlighter pen on all the points she made. But I dare not! Alison signed my book and I cannot scribble in it. Alison ends Chapter 14 with:

“There are a lot of people who don’t want me to tell the truth about any of this. There’s a lot at stake. But you can’t keep the truth from coming out, anymore than you can stop kin from finding kin.

There’s a natural law with secrets. It’s the same law that applies to kettles. If you block the ventilation hole, there will eventually an explosion.”

It sounded like a warning!

Who keeps the adoption secrets and why? In some adoption situations, it’s the adoption agency or the person who facilitated the adoption. Adoptive parents often withhold information because they are scared of losing their children to the biological family. Birth mothers often refuse to identify the birth father and we adoptees know very well that we are not the products of virgin births.

On my quest to find my biological family, I wrote to the doctor who had arranged my adoption, asking for information about my biological family. His response was wishy-washy and all I learned was that he thought I should be grateful to my adoptive parents. He did say my birth parents came from ‘decent’ backgrounds, but he said nothing about my cerebral palsy or the circumstances of my birth. Being grateful for being adopted certainly did not provide me with information about my medical inheritance.

When I did make contact with my birth mother she refused to tell me who my birth father was. She practically told me it was none of my business and that by asking, I was interfering with her private life! I am not really sure if she understood that, unfortunately, MY private life was connected to hers.

Eventually, she did tell me his name, but by that time, I’d already found out for myself.

Alison illustrates another aspect of the adoption secrecy in a situation to which I strongly relate. Walt, Pippa’s biological father, had been promising he’d tell his other 2 children, Edwin and Ashley about her, but he never does.

When Pippa is spending a weekend with Walt at his beach house, Edwin turns up unexpectedly.

It’s your brother,” Walt says, “ Quick! Get down!”

“I’m sorry?” I looked at Walt to see if he’s joking. He isn’t.

“Get DOWN!”

Pippa kneels on the floor of Walt’s car until Edwin leaves. This is her reaction to the incident.

“I feel dirty. Insignificant. Unwanted. Second class. A secret that needs to be shut away. A problem that needs to be managed. For the first time since I arrived in America, I feel like an old-fashioned, bona fide bastard.”

I know all too well the feeling of being a skeleton in someone’s closet. It has evolved into my making my own closet to placate other people.

I’m done with closets. I’ve broken out of my one and I’m never going back!


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