I received a free copy of Awakening East by Johanna Garton to review. As I’ve mentioned previously, I do not have an Amazon affiliate account. If you decide to purchase the book, I suggest you look it up on Amazon using the Love Without Boundaries affiliate link because I feel that LWB would benefit more from a couple of dimes than I would.
Awakening East is a memoir written by an adoptive mother of two through China’s original non-special needs program. When her children were 11 and 4, her family moved to China to live for a year. While Johanna seems to have always had the travel bug, this move was driven in a large part by her desire for her children to be able to connect with their birth culture. Johanna and her husband paid a lot of attention to their pre-adoptive training. She is very sensitive to the emotions that her children might have as adoptees. Her son attends a Mandarin immersion school. Her love and care for her children shines through in the book.
During the first third of the book, Johanna shares a bit about her college-aged self and experiences traveling in Asia as a young adult. Next, she moves on to the adoption stories of both of her children. I loved the excitement she and her husband felt upon finding that they would be adopting a boy from China during their first adoption. They got caught in the slowdown during the second adoption. I’m assuming they had an early 2006 LID because it took three years for them to receive the referral of their daughter, and she shares their struggles with the wait.
The rest of the book focuses on their year in China. I really enjoyed the book, which was well written and entertaining, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. Johanna writes that they really didn’t want to be in a big east coast city, but preferred a location in the central or south for a more authentic Chinese experience. Her son was from Kunming and she was eventually able to find a teaching location there. However, she says that living there was “difficult” (in the biggest apartment in the city with a housekeeper/cook?) so they traveled at least monthly to many different countries in Asia where they saw the sights and enjoyed a break. Towards the end of the book they stopped in Shanghai where she felt the decision to reject east coast living was justified because they found it so western. I guess I don’t feel that living in Des Moines is any more authentically American than living in Chicago so I disagree that life in Beijing, Shanghai, or Nanjing is less authentically Chinese. It’s simply different. Garton has a great sense of humor, so I was looking forward to many amusing anecdotes of an American family adjusting to life in China. Instead, I felt like I was reading far more about Thailand, Burma, or India than China. I can see where the trips they took outside of China would stand out in her memory more than daily life, but I would have liked to hear more of the day to day details.
The largest amount of their time in China recounted in Awakening East regards their trips to her son’s orphanage (Kunming) and daughter’s foster family (Fuzhou, Jiangxi). I know that families who adopted from those areas will really enjoy the details about those trips. Families handle the privacy issue in differently, but I was a little uncomfortable reading so much information about the exact details of her children’s abandonment, their life before adoption, and even her son’s journal entry giving his feelings on the orphanage visit. He is old enough that I’m sure she got his permission to share within the book, but I would not personally have shared as much information as she chose to. However, I did appreciate how much she shared about her feelings on these important trips. I know any adoptive parent could relate to the anxiety around such a big occasion and wanting to get every bit of information from the trip as possible while also being concerned about your child’s emotional well-being.
All in all, I found Awakening East to be an entertaining read which was a nice change from my usual heavy fare. I think adoptive parents will enjoy it.