In this meticulously researched book, Gabrielle Glaser gives her readers a detailed and empathetic portrait of adoption in twentieth-century America. Glaser centers her writing on the experiences of Margaret Erle and the baby boy she gave up for adoption in 1961, following the impact of this decision across countries and upon generations of families. The history that she uncovers is often discomfiting, and often simply cruel; parents, doctors, and service workers considered it more important to uphold the standards of propriety and social engineering than to provide care.
After fifteen-year-old Margaret begins a romance with high school classmate George Katz, much to both their parents’ disapproval, she becomes pregnant after losing her virginity. Her mother places her in Lakeview, a home for unwed pregnant women. After the baby, David, is born, Margaret and George insist on raising him themselves, until a social worker threatens Margaret with juvenile delinquency. The rest of the story follows David’s experience as an adoptee and the eventual reunification of mother and son.
Glaser’s writing about adoption also depicts the broader cultural history of the North American Jewish community. Erle’s story begins with a family traumatized by their escape from the Nazis and the pressures of starting over again in a new country. Both the young birth parents and the older adoptive parents (who are also Holocaust survivors) find themselves at the mercy of the institutions established by New York’s wealthy Jewish elite. The decades immediately following the war were full of opportunity for bright, aspiring young Jewish adults, but upward social and economic mobility also had costs.
The book does not shy away from the identity crises from which adopted children often suffer. Even as Glaser acknowledges the love that adopted families share, this is not a warm and fuzzy tale from the cabbage patch. With the end of the book focusing on advocacy work being done by and on behalf of adopted children (and those who are now adults), Glaser succeeds at pointing out the impact of past adoption practices and how they continue to resonate today.
The emotional charge of Glaser’s writing gives it a sense of urgency, and the stories she tells will deeply resonate with readers.