The Book of Sarahs: A Family in Parts

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"Catherine McKinley was one of only a few thousand African American and bi-racial children adopted by white couples in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Raised in a small, white New England town, she had a persistent longing for the more diverse community that would better understand and encompass her. In an era shaped by the rhetoric of Black Power and Black Pride, McKinley's coming of age entailed her own detailed investigation into her birth history, a search complicated by the terms of a closed adoption that denied her all knowledge of the
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Overview

"Catherine McKinley was one of only a few thousand African American and bi-racial children adopted by white couples in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Raised in a small, white New England town, she had a persistent longing for the more diverse community that would better understand and encompass her. In an era shaped by the rhetoric of Black Power and Black Pride, McKinley's coming of age entailed her own detailed investigation into her birth history, a search complicated by the terms of a closed adoption that denied her all knowledge of the circumstances of her birth." The Book of Sarahs traces McKinley's own time of revelations: after a five-year period marked by dead ends and disappointments, she finds her birth mother and a half-sister named Sarah, the name that was originally given to her. When she locates her birth father and meets several of his eleven other children she begins to see the whole mosaic of parentage - African American, WASP, Jewish, Native American - and then is confronted with a final revelation that threatens to destabilize all she has uncovered.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McKinley grew up a biracial adopted child in a politically progressive family, living in a mostly white community in a working-class Massachusetts town. After discovering that her birth mother is a white Jewish woman and her father African-American and part Native American, McKinley finds that she may even have a sister, possibly a twin, by these same parents. But McKinley's first burst of happiness at finding her birth parents is continually punctured: her mother relates to her mostly through the young daughter of her current relationship and has serious emotional problems. (The title refers to the fact that Sarah was the name her birth mother gave McKinley, as well as McKinley's older sister and her half-sister. So there are three Sarahs: all related, all from the same mother.) McKinley frets that her newfound family will disapprove of her lesbianism. By the end of her journey, she is left with feeling "post-family": "I had been born into a loss. People were lost to me." McKinley wants a clear-cut racial, biological and family identity, but comes to the difficult conclusion that such a thing does not exist for her or anyone else if they begin looking hard enough. McKinley writes beautifully in this debut memoir, never resorting to sentimentality or easy emotions within this tangled web of emotional and family secrets. (Sept.) Forecast: McKinley's Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing was considered a major achievement when it came out in the mid '90s. This book's sales could be bolstered by display with two other black women's recent tarrying with origins: Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs's Claiming Kin: Confronting the History of an African American Family (St. Martin's) and Theresa Cameron's Foster Care Odyssey: A Black Girl's Story (Univ. of Mississippi). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In recounting her long and arduous journey in search of her birth parents, McKinley (Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing) draws us into a page-turning treasure hunt. Along the way she skillfully describes her upbringing as a black (or so she believed) child adopted by a white family during the 1960s, her tenacious efforts to winnow information out of the bureaucratic agency that handled her adoption and her often startlingly candid reactions to each new revelation about her background. Ultimately, she discovered that her parentage includes African American, WASP, Jewish, and Native American forbears. The multiple Sarahs of the title are just another confounding bit of information in this painful, funny, and very human memoir about race and family. In the end, the treasure McKinley seems to have discovered is her own independent self. Recommended for all libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Disturbing memoir of an adopted biracial woman’s search for her birth parents and her struggle to patch together a coherent identity. Raised by a white couple in New England, McKinley felt isolated and alienated growing up. As a teenager she longed for, conjured up, and lied about having a black mother; it was a jolting experience to learn in her early 20s that her birth mother was white and Jewish, with a history of mental illness. McKinley describes her long struggle to uncover the truth about her birth history and to meet and know the woman who gave her up for adoption. Her relationship with this woman was not smooth, and the discoveries she made about her extended family were quite disconcerting. When McKinley found her mother, she was living with another African-American man and had a young daughter by him named Sarah, the same name the author had been given at birth. She then learned that four years before she was born, her mother had had another daughter by McKinley’s father; this daughter was also named Sarah and given up for adoption. While her own anger, alienation, and sadness permeate the narrative, McKinley expresses little concern for the feelings of her adoptive parents, who remain very much in the background. When she finally tracked down her birth father, she discovered that through him she had 11 half-brothers and half-sisters ranging in age from 10 to 56. For some time, the father-daughter relationship consisted of long-distance phone conversations marked by evasions, deceptions, grand promises, and excuses. McKinley’s eight-year search for family did not bring her what she expected or wanted to find, but instead a big crazy quilt from which she had to construct apattern and stitch her own self-image. A real downer, but it raises important questions.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582432595
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2002
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 1.03 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2002

    An Honest, Candid Memoir

    Members of the adoption triad--birthparents, adoptees, and adoptive parents--share a unique, complicated, emotionally charged relationship from the moment the adoptee is born. There are one thousand and one reasons why birthmothers feel that reelinquishment is the best possible choice for their child. In my twenty-six years as a birthmother, I'm still amazed at the many different paths triad members have traveled, yet we're all connected by the same feelings of uncertainty and wistfulness. Catherine McKinley's personal story of life as an adopted Black child raised in a white family and predominately white community will captivate readers. One does not have to a member of the adoption community to appreciate her search for self. A beautifully, richly written story of relationships that readers will find hard to put down.

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