11 May / Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran, translated by Nicky Harman
Okay, so I’m not quite sure of the U.S. publication date for Xinran’s latest … but I’ve been oh so blessed with a copy and must announce that it’s not to be missed, especially if your life has been touched by adoption in any way. Amazon does have a few copies available through their related sellers on their U.S. site, so you can definitely order now with the UK cover … That I read Message in full on Mother’s Day was truly a gift.
The strength of Message – as with most of Xinran’s books – is her uncanny ability to get people to share stories they have never revealed before. Contained in these too-brief 200+ pages are heartbreaking stories of Chinese mothers longing for the daughters they lost, either forced by cultural expectations to ‘do’ away with newborns, or to give up for another mother to nurture, hold, and love. Regardless of that loss, the final message is clear: a mother/child bond remains forever unbreakable.
Xinran opens Message with valuable context: the 120,000 Chinese children adopted in 27 countries by 2007; the historical, cultural, and political reasons as to why and how these orphan children, mostly girls, have found mothers and families outside of China; and her own 2004 founding of a UK charity, The Mothers’ Bridge of Love, which provides cultural resources for all Chinese children, especially Chinese children in Western families, and helps support disabled Chinese orphans languishing in Chinese orphanages. She offers a brief overview of her own story, from her longing to “‘[t]o be a daughter'” to her estranged mother, and the mother-love she has both witnessed and experienced from strangers who have embraced her throughout her around-the-world tours.
For those Chinese daughters – and the few sons – who begin to question, “‘Why didn’t my Chinese mummy want me?'” Xinran offers irrefutable proof that every one of those let-go children were deeply loved, but unavoidable circumstances tore the child from the birthmother. Through memorable, human stories, Xinran introduces a mother who calls herself “Waiter’ – as in one who waits for her lost child, a retired midwife whose practices were forced to adapt according to the newborn’s gender, a village transplant to the big city who thinks suicide is the only way to end the pain of losing her daughters, and an ‘extra-birth guerilla family’ who chooses a life on the run in the hope of producing that all-important son in spite of the rigid one-child law.
She meets an elderly woman, Red Mary, herself an orphan, who for long decades single-handedly tried to better the lives of Chinese orphans; through that connection, Xinran later meets Red Mary’s successor, Green Mary, who confesses that she gave up her own daughter believing she would find a better life in the West. Xinran meets a chic Chinese American immigrant in New York who reveals that she has never stopped searching for the firstborn daughter she was forced to give away for her parents’ sake. She recalls a young mother who never stops feeding stones to the river where her daughter was kidnapped, and a teenage girl who learns that she was a kidnapped baby.
The final story belongs to Xinran herself, as she remembers her own foster daughter whom she was not able to keep forever, whose distinctive pink birthmark she searches for in the faces of the thousands of young women she meets all around the globe, hoping someday she might hold that missing daughter in her arms once more …
From page to page, story, to story, Xinran remembers just the right details – the stone and leaf, the piece of checkered cloth – that make you catch your breath and shed longing tears. Each of these messages are true testimony to a mother’s love … and a most tremendous gift for adopted children asking the most difficult questions, waiting for impossible answers.
Tidbit: May 13, 2010 – just found out that the U.S. pub date is currently scheduled for March 2011 from Scribner. But again, you can get copies from Amazon’s related sellers now.
Published: 2010 (United Kingdom)