Monday, 18 August 2008

Book Review - There is no me without you

I've been reading so many adoption books since we started this process, and have donated such a lot of money to the good folk at Amazon, that I thought I should at least note which of these seemed worth the time. Anyone who's been thinking about Ethiopian adoption has certainly come across the book 'there is no me without you', by Melissa Fay Greene, so it seemed like this would be an obvious place to start.

Although when I say they have come across this book, it's not quite that simple. I suspect that when it was first published, it was done in a small way and it has been more successful than anticipated and thus re-printed about a gazillion times. Because of this, your copy may look like this (as either book or audio CD):

Or this:

Or this: (same picture, different font)

There are probably other covers out there that I haven't seen. And the multi-covers thing is fairly normal, I guess, but there's a complicating factor: like my copy, it could have the same picture as #2 and #3 but have a completely different title: 'Orphaned'. What the? I have NO idea what is going on with the two-title thing. The first title was a little odd (although makes sense after reading the book) but the second is really not an improvement. It makes this book look like it belongs to the 'poor-me' genre, which usually have a one word title, often a past tense verb, and outline the multitudinous childhood difficulties that the author has overcome in order to become the fabulous person they are today. These might include such titles as 'Neglected', 'Shamed', 'Overlooked', 'Forgotten' etc - yes, I did just make up those titles, but you know the books I'm talking about. And I'm not here to review those books, which is fortunate, because I can't stand them. Anyway, this book could not be any further from those, and its new stupid title is doing it a big disservice. Because, in a sentence, it is one of the best, most inspiring, most shocking, funniest, most moving and perception-altering books I have read for years.

A few months ago, J and I had made a pretty firm decision to adopt, and I was really keen for Ethiopia, but J wasn't quite sure. I read T I N M W Y and loved it. In fact, I drove J CRAZY by constantly quoting bits at him, which he really hates. When I finished it, I thrust it into his hands and said "Right, you HAVE to read this one". He rolled his eyes a bit, but took the book. A few days later, he actually started reading it and suddenly, HE was quoting bits at ME. The information about the HIV pandemic really affected both of us - living where we do, it's so easy to think of HIV as someone else's problem, and (worst of all, and I'm ashamed to admit this) a disease where the victims are all somehow at fault. This book completely changed that perception for me. I didn't even realise how much I had that perception until I read this book, and a book that can both show you your twisted thinking and begin to change it, well, that's a book to be treasured.

This book obviously hits a lot of people really hard. On the EthiopiaAdopt web group (which is a bizarre place, and I'm not sure I really recommend it) people occasionally post out of the blue and say 'I've just read the most amazing book! I'ts by Melissa Fay Greene! You all have to read it!' And of course, we all already HAVE read it so there is usually a bit of a collective eye-roll, but I think it's interesting that this doesn't seem to happen with any other book.

I totally agree with these people's fervour. I'd really like to recommend this book to everyone I know, sit them down, and force them all to read it. The only thing that gives me pause is that it is written from a really adoption-centric perspective. There is nothing wrong with this. The book doesn't claim to be a general book about HIV or Ethiopia - it is a book about a person (a pretty amazing person) and it accurately reflects both her life and the author's experience. And my perspective is pretty adoption-centric itself, so I'm definitely not one to complain. I'm just not sure that I can give this book to other people without them suspecting a subtext of 'you should be adopting an Ethiopian orphan!' And that would definitely not be my intention, but most of the happy bits of this book are about adoption. If you've read this, what did you think? Suitable for a general audience? More specifically, suitable for ME (or another adopter) to give to a general audience, or will people think we're trying to tell them something?

If you're reading this blog, but haven't read this book, get thee to Amazon and order it right now. Just make sure you've got someone else nearby so you can quote all the good bits at them.


  1. Okay, so I have to admit that I have not read the whole thing. I listened to it on CD which was awesome because I'm not sure how I would have waded through all of the statistics. Anyways, then I went out and bought it and finished it up and then handed it off to everyone that I know. LOVE IT. Not in a "really laughed a lot" kind of way, but "it changed my perspective in a HUGE way" kind of way! Good stuff.
    The 15 hour bus trip was actually a 19 hour bus trip and it was to a picnic/community meeting (that's what we call our church) with a bunch of other churches that we are connected to. Long trip, well worth it! Back on the bus tomorrow for 19 more hours home! Enough of this book:)

  2. Gaaah - hope you have your 19 hour journey out of the way now Misty! One good thing about living on a small island - anywhere that is 19 hours drive away is waaaaay past the edge of the land and in the middle of the ocean!


Over to you!