Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: The Mistress's Daughter

I just finished reading the book "The Mistress's Daughter" by A.M. Holmes.  Here's the summary from the inside cover of the book:

A.M. Holmes was given up for adoption before she was born.  Her biological mother was a twenty-two-year-old single woman who was having an affair with a much older married man with children and a family of his own.  The Mistress's Daughter is the riveting story of what happened, when, thirty years later, her birth parents came looking for her.

First of all, the book was all about character development - not plot.  If you like reading books where a lot happens, this book is probably not for you.  I probably do prefer books where there is a lot of action, so I definitely struggled through a few parts of this.  That was the downside - the upside was that the idea behind the book (a woman searching for details about her biological family) was fascinating to me.

Here are a few lines that I found interesting: 

To be adopted is to be adapted, to be amputated and sewn back together again.  Whether or not you regain full function, there will always be scar tissue (p54).  

I am glad I am there, alone, among strangers.  I cry throughout the service.  I am crying not just for her, but for myself, for every accident that has been a part of this, for every failing on everyone's part, for the damned fragility of being human, for being afraid, ashamed.  This is my atonement; I am confessing my sins, beating my chest, asking for forgiveness for what I have said and for what I have not said, for what I have done and for what I have not done, for those I have hurt or offended knowingly or unknowingly, for my errors of omission... I am crying for how isolated I am, how alone, and how I have to go through life like this (p117-118).

Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren.  The story grows over the years, mutates; some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened.  But even with those different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story.  And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from (p156).

Another thing I found interesting was the mention of DAR - Daughter's of the American Revolution.  Through her biological father, Holmes is eligible to come a member (which she wants to do for the lineage aspect).  This was a relatively small detail within the book - but since I have family ties to this organization, my interest was piqued and I played around on the DAR website a bit.  Any woman 18+ years old who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution is eligible to become a member. But it's all based on biological lineage - though I am eligible for membership, if I adopted a daughter she would not be. 

I'm having trouble putting in to words why this bothers me, but it does.  I do not believe in biology as a determiner to family.  I don't believe it bloodlines as being a requisite for ancestry.  Your child is your descendant - period.  As someone who is from a family that doesn't all share biology, this is very important to me.  While organizations like DAR may have their place, I had a hard time wrapping my head around why Holmes wanted to be a member; I do not want to be part of an organization that places such importance - the only importance - on bloodline.

The idea of searching for your ancestors - your bloodline - was both the part I enjoyed most about the book and the part I struggled with most.  

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