As a year-end promise to myself, I decided to write a review of every book I read in 2018. To ensure I fulfilled my intentions, I further restricted myself to not beginning another read, before I wrote the review. Phew! Did I set myself a tough one. Any voracious reader will understand how difficult restraint is. Reading is like a drug, I go from one fix to the next with scarcely a break. And here I am like the lawyer in Anton Chekov’s The Bet stuck with my own capriciousness, I sure hope I don’t end up disillusioned like him. The thing with promises we make to others is,- we can get out of them by breaking them with maybe self-righteous justification or disappointed begging-off . However, when one makes a promise to oneself you, or rather me, gets stuck with Launcelot’s ‘hard conscious.’ Now with multiple goodreads lining up my bedside table towards which my fingers repeatedly stretch out, till my promise smacks them away, you can surely understand the predicament I’ve stuck myself with.
So, here are my thoughts on the first of the many books I will read in 2018.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Based on a notorious adoption scandal involving Georgia Tann, a child trafficker who separated children from their birth parents under the cover of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an adoption agency in Memphis, Tennessee. From the 1920s to when the home was shut down in 1950, Tann perpetuated numerous adoption frauds. To the public Tann was the acclaimed ‘mother of modern adoptions’ consulted even by Eleanor Roosevelt and feted by the rich and influential. She owned a mansion, threw lavish parties and roamed around Memphis in a chauffeur driven Limousine. To the families whose children were taken away, Georgia Tann was their worst nightmare come true. For all who were taken by her were not unloved orphans, but infants taken away from unwed mothers who were told their children were born dead, kidnapped toddlers from their doorsteps or when they were on their way from school, snatched children from destitute people claiming they were unfit parents, and the list goes on. The children were then sold to wealthy families via advertisements in newspapers with catch lines like “Yours for the Asking” and “Perfect Christmas Presents”. Over thirty years Tann got away with her despicable acts with the promise that the children “They are blank slates. They are born untainted, and if you adopt them at an early age and surround them with beauty and culture, they will become anything you wish them to be.” There is much more to the sordid story of Georgia Tann, but then the book is not about her, it is about the lost children of Tennessee.
Before We Were Yours is a fictional story straddling the past and the present. The past is of 90 year-old Rill and her siblings who were torn by Georgia Tann, from the loving arms of parents who were poor, yet the children were loved. The present is Avery Stafford who looks uncannily like Rill’s sister Fern. The story speaks of an old woman who due to Alzheimer’s is losing her memory and her sister who remembers too much. It is about a family which has too much to lose if the truth gets out and about women who do not want to disrupt the lives of those they cherish. Wingate’s novel is also about a young woman who has to make many choices about her life, her career and the man she should marry, and each choice, as often in life, is tough and will hurt those she cares for the most.
I love to read and often beyond a beautiful story I get mesmerised by an author’s skill at weaving words which pierce through my very soul. As I read a book I mark these to go back to and feel them again and again. Here are some by Lisa Wingate that will hold me in thrall for a long time to come.
“Worry scratches a setting spot inside me and takes up nesting.”
“I awaken from it like an early-day medical patient coming out of an ether sleep. My mind dawdles. My wits take a moment to line up properly and force me to look away.”
“I drop her in the cot and turn away and grab my hair and pull till it hurts. I want to pull all of it out. Every single piece. I want a pain I understand of the one I don’t. I want a pain that has a beginning and an end, not one that goes on forever and cuts all the way to the bone.”
“The argument ends where all arguments end − on the altar of compromise.”
“No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day or imagine the song of a future one, we must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn’t suit the moment.”
“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses. Her own music. To hear the tune, she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean. We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.”
Beautiful are the words that “Before We Were Yours” is adorned with. Read the book for the story which is a heartbreaking tale of survival or for the words with which Lisa Wingate shares this poignant unravelling of the adoptees who never forgot.
And now since I have accomplished the first review, I’m going to pick up my next read – The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Watch out for the review very soon.