Mother Country: Memoir of an Adopted Boy

Overview

When Jeremy Harding was a child, his mother, Maureen, told him he was adopted. She described his natural parents as a Scandinavian sailor and a “little Irish girl” who worked in a grocery. It was only later, as Harding set out to look for traces of his birth mother, that he began to understand who his adoptive mother really was—and the benign make-believe world she built for herself and her little boy. Evoking a magical childhood spent in transit between west London and a decrepit houseboat on the banks of the ...
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Overview

When Jeremy Harding was a child, his mother, Maureen, told him he was adopted. She described his natural parents as a Scandinavian sailor and a “little Irish girl” who worked in a grocery. It was only later, as Harding set out to look for traces of his birth mother, that he began to understand who his adoptive mother really was—and the benign make-believe world she built for herself and her little boy. Evoking a magical childhood spent in transit between west London and a decrepit houseboat on the banks of the River Thames, Mother Country is both a detective quest, as Harding searches through the public records for clues about his natural mother, and a rich social history of a lost London from the 1950s. Mother Country is a powerful true story about a man looking for the mother he had never known and finding out how little he understood the one he had grown up with.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Told in a straightforward manner with all of the false leads and dead ends of a Chandler hard-boiled caper, Harding's memoir is a testimony in determination and endurance as he searches for his birth mother after learning of his adoption as a child. Harding, contributing editor at the London Review of Books, takes the word of Maureen, his adoptive mother, of his true parents as a "little Irish girl" and a Scandinavian sailor, leaving his fanciful childhood on a houseboat on London's Thames River to pursue a dogged quest through birth records, electoral rolls, and various public registers to find his bloodline. During his search, he examines the emotional concept of motherhood through the two women essential in his life and the tangle of Britain's adoption laws, which concealed the identities of biological parents at the time. The book, with its colorful, insightful revelations about his adoptive parents and compelling discoveries about his birth mother, give this slender memoir a special magic and beauty that will grip the reader long after the final page is turned. (Dec.)
Rachel Cooke - The Observer
“Harding is a conjurer. Give him a long-since demolished stairwell, and he’ll give you a world—its sound, its smell, the feeling that you could stumble upon it still.”
Cressida Connolly - Daily Telegraph
“Beautifully written, funny and sad, this book is simply captivating.”
From the Publisher
“Harding is a conjurer. Give him a long-since demolished stairwell, and he’ll give you a world—its sound, its smell, the feeling that you could stumble upon it still.”—Rachel Cooke, Observer

“Stunning.”—Amanda Heller, Boston Globe

“Beautifully written, funny and sad, this book is simply captivating.”—Cressida Connolly, Daily Telegraph

“Fluid and invigorating ... a delicate and absorbing account of Harding’s investigation into the circumstances of his adoption.”—John Palattella, Nation

“Harding’s story is that of an adopted boy growing up in London, and his decision later to search for his natural mother. Readers get a detailed chronicle of the search and its ramifications, turning up hidden facets of the family Harding thought he knew.”—Library Journal

“An able, imaginative work of kinship and family.”—Kirkus

“Its colorful, insightful revelations about his adoptive parents and compelling discoveries about his birth mother give this slender memoir a special magic and beauty that will grip the reader long after the final page is turned.”—Publishers Weekly

Library Journal - BookSmack!
Originally published in the UK in 2006, Harding's story is that of an adopted boy growing up in London, and his decision later to search for his natural mother. Readers get a detailed chronicle of the search and its ramifications, turning up hidden facets of the family Harding thought he knew. Harding's mother, Maureen, disclosed his status as an adoptee when he was a small child and fed him breadcrumbs about his natural mother. This troll through the county electoral rolls is less about the pursuit of a single person's location and more on accumulating a comprehensive life history.What I'm Telling My Friends Not much. This sedate memoir may be considered a fabulous memoir in England, but on this side of the pond, where sensationalism is the norm, I was left with something of a "so what?" feeling. Julie Kane, "Memoir Short Takes", Booksmack! 10/21/10
Kirkus Reviews

London Review of Books contributing editor Harding (The Uninvited: Refugees at the Rich Man's Gate, 2000, etc.) seeks his birth mother after 50 years.

As a child, the author lived along the waters of the Thames with the family that took him when he was less than two weeks old. At the age of five, Harding was informed that he was adopted and that his natural parents were a young Irish maiden and a Scandinavian sailor, not his capricious, tippling mother and his cocky, bridge-card hustler father. As an adult, he searched for his parents, scouring birth records, voting registrations and death reports and interviewing old neighbors with faulty memories.Harding compiled a dossier, a burgeoning portfolio of known and implied facts about the Hibernian girl who bore him half a century earlier. The author knew a few hard facts: She arrived in England after the war, lived at 43 Mackenzie Close and worked at a chain store. But who was she? What was she like? Was there a physical resemblance? Did he have brothers or sisters? Plotted craftily, his journal of discovery unfolds memorably, and his detective work, sometimes desultory, often assiduous, was finally productive. Along the way, Harding also uncovered the saga of his adoptive mother's rise to a better class of society. As a proper memoirist must do, he invests the narrative of his familiar parents with unique character in his story of natural and acquired parentage. A fitting denouement, as well as a new introduction for American readers, is provided. "I've tried to tell a story: this is not a campaigning book," he writes. "Nevertheless, it's a powerful illustration of what can happen when an adopted person, whose birth certificate shows only the names of the adoptive parents, exercises a legal right to see the original birth certificate."

An able, imaginative work of kinship and family.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844676576
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 11/22/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,296,212
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Harding is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. His books include The Uninvited: Refugees at the Rich Man’s Gate, Small Wars, Small Mercies, and Mother Country.
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