The Stranger In My Genes: Book Review (Sort of)

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A few weeks ago, I went through a spell where my head was full of thoughts. Disjointed, nostalgic, angst-filled thoughts as I navigated reaching out to relatives of my children I found out through DNA testing. The writer in me saw stories in the making. As an observer, I wanted to record so much of it for posterity. As I am wont to do when something gets a hold of me, I turned to the internet for my fix. I searched for adoption memoirs, I looked for documentaries that deal with adoption, reunion, and genealogy. I thirsted for something that would lay out the thoughts in my head in a good way. Twitter delivered and how!

A friend recommended the book The Stranger In My Genes by Bill Griffith. I read the blurb and I was hooked. Yesterday I devoured the book. At about 200 pages, it is a short read. It is also a page-turner. The jacket, the cover, the typeface all of it lend a certain charm to the story. The book is by a man discovering through a DNA test that his father is not the one he grew up with. As a genealogist, this discovery shakes the foundation of his life. The book takes us on the journey with him as he makes peace with his new truth. In addition to the book tracing roots, it is also a look into the places people come from. It is a lesson in history.

The book touched a chord with me for many reasons. The prose is beautiful, the feelings raw, the narrator a true storyteller.

The book also had me thinking about family. It put into words why I often go back and look at pictures. It explains why I miss the bonds that have broken in my family. It explains the ache that I feel at losing cousins. It captures the pain that lost familial ties impact more than just one generation. It makes me think of all the ways life could have been but is not.

It makes me think of my children and their families. It explains the urge I feel to discover and connect with all the people who have a say in how my children came to be. It explains the pull in me to look at my children and their birth families and rejoice in tracing which feature belongs to which parent. It makes me want to return to their birthplace, to breath that air in, to feel a connection to the roots of my children. It is that feeling that makes me read up, research cultures that are alien to me but are now part of my DNA in ways I cannot explain.

Mr. Griffeth puts in words the angst, the yearning, the pain, the shame, the complicated feelings that reunion evokes in people. He makes a strong case for why adoptive parents need to do all they can to preserve, seek out and help their child build a strong sense of identity. His story is a shining example of what happens when children grow up and learn that their entire life has been a lie. He captures that heartbreak, that desolation so eloquently.

If you have been touched by adoption, by complicated families, pick his book up. It will give you that feeling that you are not alone. It provides a peek into what it is like to search for who you are.

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