Top critical review
Affecting, but biased
May 10, 2014
I should be the ideal reader for a book like this. As an adoptive mom of three kids, all Asian (though not Chinese), I am highly sympathetic to the plight of "orphans" around the world (many of whom have living parents who are unable to care for them for a multitude of reasons.) I've visited orphanages in China and India, and I've done quite a bit of reading and speaking about developmental and social outcomes related to early institutionalization. But it's unfortunate: this book's purpose, to raise awareness of the conditions of institutionalized orphans in China, is undermined by the author's persistent and intrusive bias against all things Chinese. China is repeatedly referred to as "this strange land" or "this foreign land"; she (rather casually) states that Chinese men don't respect women; she wonders with annoyance why the serving staff at McDonald's persist in speaking to her in Mandarin; and finally, attempting to support a narrative arc in which she and the Chinese caretakers eventually grow to understand each other,, she concludes that the Chinese "have their own culture, which they've had for hundreds of years." (Hundreds of years, indeed! Those pesky Chinese whippersnappers! Try tens of thousands.)
It's more than understandable that Bratt feels angry about the conditions that many children languish in, and she's at her best when confronting the truly appalling neglect and abuse she documents: healthy babies wither into apathetic, developmentally delayed children, while children with extra challenges like cleft palate or blindness fade away and - too often - die in their beds. It sounds as though she and her team of volunteers made some substantial changes in the orphanage, enriching the lives of all the kids, and providing several individual children with life-saving medical and foster care. I truly enjoyed reading the letters included at the end from adoptive parents who ultimately provided a "forever family" to some of the children Bratt knew as a volunteer, and these letters offer a lot of credibility to Bratt's work there. Unfortunately, her anger over the plight of the orphans is too often translated into rather harsh generalizations about Chinese culture and people. Although Bratt says she learned to speak Mandarin, her writing voice is that of a foreigner who fears and loathes what she doesn't understand.