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The Broken Cord: A Family's Ongoing Struggle With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Hardcover – July, 1989


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; 1st edition (July 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060160713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060160715
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #500,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As a young bachelor over 20 years ago, Dorris was struck by the sudden conviction that he wanted to be a father. Approved for adoption with surprising speed, he shortly met--and fell in love with--a beautiful, undersized three-year-old American Indian, called Adam in this account. Records showed that Adam had an extensive medical history, but Dorris, with the dewy confidence of a new parent, was undaunted--no problems could withstand the forces of devotion and informed intelligence. After years of repeated epileptic seizures and minimal developmental headway, Adam was cautiously diagnosed: he was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a profoundly debilitating, lifelong condition caused by his mother's heavy drinking during pregnancy. As professional anthropologist (he teaches at Dartmouth) and driven parent, Dorris spent years researching FAS, readily observable in the U.S. on Indian reservations; an American Indian himself, he offers alarming profiles and statistics about the high incidence of FAS in the Indian population. But the heartbreak of this preventable disease is felt most pointedly in the stories he tells about Adam's narrow life in a world closed to the effects of imagination. In graceful, unencumbered prose, Dorris ( A Yellow Raft in Blue Water ) bares the frustration of day-to-day living with Adam, admits his rage at his own impotence to make his son's life fuller and eloquently describes moments of pride, hope and--always--love. For in the face of the impossibilities in Adam's life, it was love alone that forced open the reliable, livable world this severely limited young man inhabits, and love that reveals for the father--and his readers--the possibilities that illuminate life within even such painfully narrow horizons. Included are a foreword by Dorris's wife, writer Louise Erdrich, and Adam's story, as told by himself. First serial to Ladies' Home Journal.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In his intensely personal, disturbing, and moving account of a father's struggle to come to grips with the devastating and yet preventable condition, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Dorris gives us vital information about a crisis demanding worldwide attention. Himself a Native American, anthropologist/novelist Dorris ( A Yellow Raft in Blue Water , LJ 5/1/87) adopted an Indian child in 1971 who, after batteries of tests and transfer from school to school, was finally diagnosed as suffering from FAS. To understand fully his son's condition, Dorris was compelled to "systematically confront Native American history." Here he tells of infants born in the throes of delirium tremens, of social workers so frustrated that they frankly discuss the possibility of incarcerating drunken expectant mothers during pregnancy or of sterilizing repeat offenders. Dorris includes a wealth of scientific data, excellent treatments of alcohol's effects upon Native American culture and of the physiopathological aspects of FAS, and a very complete bibliography. Highly recommended.
- John Creech, Western Carolina Univ., Cullowhee, N.C.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

The book is well written and interesting.
G. Rusnak
This is an exquisitely moving book about Michael Dorris and his adopted son, Adam.
Bonnie Brody
Another viewpoint of FASD; I'd watched the movie and wanted to read the book.
Bonnie MacDonald

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on September 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
It would be a shame if the circumstances surrounding the author's death cast a shadow over this fine book, because it is beautifully written, deeply felt, and a devastating account of the impact of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) among Native Americans.
Michael Dorris, a young unmarried college teacher and writer, adopts a Native American boy "Adam" whose developmental problems, he believes, are the result of poor nutrition, poor health care, and lack of proper parenting. In time, however, he discovers that Adam was born with FAS, a condition Dorris knows very little about. Believing that proper care can reverse the effects of FAS, he takes on the daunting and nearly futile task of helping Adam achieve a "normal" boyhood. The damage done, it turns out, is irreversible; Adam is almost maddeningly unable to learn simple tasks and responsibilities. FAS-related health problems, including seizures, often turn merely difficult days and nights into nightmares for the single father.
The book Dorris writes is meant as an eye-opener for readers who are unaware of the potential harm in consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Given naturally to research and study, he shares with the reader much of what he learns about FAS and the Native American culture that has had such a fatal connection with alcohol. To that extent, this is almost a textbook on the subject.
But this is also the story of a father and son, and most poignant, for this reader, is the relationship between them that is a thread throughout the book. Dorris never surrenders to the barriers that exist between him and his son. Having taken responsibility for Adam, he gives his all to making even the smallest difference in the boy's life. It's a heroic effort and often heartbreaking.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Colleen M. McDonald on August 27, 1999
Format: Turtleback
This is a vivid and moving account of a father's initiation into (single) parenthood and the rigorous journey of seeing a handicapped child into adulthood. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and profoundly sad. This book works best on the level of personal story-- what it means to live with a child who will never be normal, as you both fear and deny the reality that your kid is handicapped. (As the adoptive mother of a girl who has a constellation of emotional and psychological problems, but with no definitive cause, I could relate to Dorris' experience.) For me, the book bogged down in Dorris' lengthy research findings pertaining to FAS and its impact on native american communities. Dorris adopted his son, Adam, with no forewarning of Adam's FAS diagnosis and wrote the book during the early days of FAS research. Therefore, this info. was groundbreaking at the time of the book's publication, but it is dated today. Because this book is the story of only one individual-- one who was extremely handicapped by his condition-- it paints a pretty depressing picture of FAS, and the book is NOT one I would recommend first to anyone who had just taken on the responsibility of raising a child with FAS or FAE. There are more ways to treat and support individuals with FAS/FAE than were available when Dorris was raising Adam, and foster and adoptive parents of FAS/FAE children need to be pointed to resources that give them a broader view of the possibilities for their youngsters.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By BeatleBangs1964 VINE VOICE on August 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
I first read this book in early 1990. Prior to reading this book, I did not know about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effect (FAS/FAE). Mr. Dorris gives a good overview of this tragic condition and his references throughout this book certainly augment the points he makes. I like the lyrical tone Abel's (called "Adam" in the book) story takes when the author includes references to nature and natural phenomena. This book is also culturally enriching by providing glimpses of Native American traditions, e.g. Adam's naming ceremony and the gatherings the Dorris family takes later in the book.

Two things saddened me deeply about this book in addition to Adam's congenital condition. The author was involved in a very unfortunate controversy and committed suicide in 1997. In 1991 Adam, then 23 was run over by a car and killed. It made for a very tragic postcript to the lives of the Dorris family and to all those who cared about them personally.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have an adopted son with possible FAE not FAS. The recent studies are saying that FAE is just as bad as FAS because you don't know what it is so readily. My son was the product of a 17 year old drug addict/acoholic who lived on the streets prostituting. So far he is a happy healthy boy, but is tremendously developmentally delayed. He's 8 years old functioning around age 3-4. He will never be OK. When I'm so sad or overwhelmed with his behaviors I like to sit down and watch the TV version (which I recorded) of The Broken Cord. It truely gives me strength to carry on. I have subsequently fallen in love with Jimmy Smits who played Adam's dad on the show. What an excellent job! He portrays, so well, the true frustration these innocent little people bring into your life. I especially relate to the "choo-choo" dialogue and how it started out so cute and became the biggest source of aggrevation. My son does similar things and on occasion I just sit and cry. Michael Dorris did the world a wonderful job of getting the medical profession to begin thinking about this terrible syndrome. Let's keep working! Michael, despite the reasons for your death - you are truely missed and highly respected. You understand these children more than anyone else I know. Doctors - wake up!
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