cover image American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption

American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption

Gabrielle Glaser. Viking, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2468-1

Journalist Glaser (Her Best-Kept Secret) chronicles the forcible separation of a young woman from her infant son, and their much-delayed reunion, in this sweeping and novelistic account. In 1961, 16-year-old Margaret Erle is sent by her outraged parents to a maternity home after becoming pregnant. There, she is bullied by the administrators into giving up her son, Stephen. Renamed David by his adoptive parents, he grows up to become a popular cantor in Portland, Ore. Glaser meets David in 2007 and learns what little family history he knows: he’s adopted, and, in poor health, wants to find his birth family. In 2014, she receives a phone call from him after he'd successfully reunited with his mother. Inspired by David’s story, Glaser starts looking into the history of adoption and uncovers a larger story. Post-WWII, she finds, an “adoption-industrial complex” transformed adoption from a largely informal process into an impersonal and secretive one intended to spare both teenagers and their families embarrassment. In capturing the meeting between Margaret and David as his health rapidly declines due to cancer, Glaser delivers more than just the story of “a lifelong separation and a bittersweet reunion,” and the well-paced narrative is made stronger by Glaser’s ability to write with intensity about a harsh reality. This is a page-turning, illuminating work. (Jan.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated the author helped David find his birth mother.