Love in the Driest Season | Book Review
She was wrapped in a bundle of white cloths. She had dark brown eyes and delicately curled eyelashes that were so long she seemed to blink in slow motion. She kept three fingers of her right hand in her mouth. Her toes looked like little erasers on the end of miniature pencils. She seemed to weigh nothing at all. I tickled her chin. Nothing. “Hey, pretty girl,” I whispered. She blinked. I playfully bumped the end of her nose with mine. She blinked again. Then she reached out her left and, in a wobbling gesture, wrapped it around my little finger.
It is difficult to say what happened to me then. I had reported in a lot of places a lot worse than this one.I had once spent the better part of a day in a slum hospital in Baghdad, a desperate place where the temperature soared above 120 degrees, the infants subsisted on less than fifty calories a day, there was no medicine, and a fifty-two-day-old infant named Maram Hassan lay on a feed sack that passed for a bed sheet. She was starving to death, even as her mother waved flies away from her mouth and eyes. I held the child and talked to her mother, and wrote a story about the child’s doomed fate. I didn’t lose sleep over it…
Developing a detachment from the suffering you witness and write about is a professional necessity, of course, but it can also become a job hazard. You can just keep going for so many years, not allowing yourself to feel anything…
But when the child’s fingers closed over mine, some long forgotten part of me seemed to stir. I didn’t know what it was. I just felt something.
(From Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker)
In August, our family spent a weekend in Portland. My husband and I competed in the Portland Triathlon together. Our first stop in Portland is always the same: The Pearl Bakery for the most incredible pastries and coffee, and then Powells. I could get lost in Powells for a week. It is one of my favorite places on earth. With our three boys excited to explore, Mark went straight for the children’s books.
I took a detour for the parenting section. I found books on what to expect, eat, wear and buy while expecting. Books about baby names. Books about infertility (do they really have to put this by pregnancy?). And then books about adoption.
I am obsessed. I am almost constantly reading something about Africa or adoption. I was looking through the picture books designed to little ones understand the adoption of a sibling, or perhaps their own adoption. There was a young woman standing next to me. I explained I was looking for books about adopting from Africa – it seemed like all the picture books were about children adopted from China.
She said she was looking for books about being a birth parent. How do you ask a girl no older than sixteen with a little bit of a postpartum tummy if she placed her child for adoption? It seemed like she wanted to talk, so I just asked. She had placed her son for adoption just six weeks earlier. She said he was beautiful and she loved him. She and the adoptive parents had an open adoption plan and she would be able to see him soon. She asked me about my sons and our plans to adopt.
She missed her son. It was obvious. Even as she had made the brave and most likely wise decision to place him for adoption, she loved him. I cannot imagine how empty she felt: the longing and pain and sadness of walking around and having no one know that she was a mama.
We looked together for books about birth parenting and adopting from Africa. I found Love in the Driest Season: A Family Memoir by Neely Tucker.
I started reading the book on Saturday afternoon, as I was resting in preparation for my triathlon. I finished it on Monday night, reading by headlamp in the car on the way home from Portland. Like I said: obsessed.
Love the the Driest Season takes place in Zimbabwe beginning in 1997. Writer Neely Tucker is a weathered foreign correspondent who moves to Zimbabwe with his wife Vita. In 1997, over 25% of the population of Zimbabwe has HIV or AIDS. The epidemic is having devastating consequences for the children of the country, many of whom are left orphans. Neely and Vita begin volunteering at an orphanage and decide to foster a baby girl, Chipo, who is near death when they first take her into their home.
The book is a story of adoption from a father’s perspective. Neely struggles to balance his desires to provide for and protect his family. He wrestles with giving up his job or his daughter. His battle is honest. As most books about adoption are written by women, I think this is an especially good book for men considering adoption.
I love the passage above because it explains what happens in Neely’s heart when the children he has seen through the lens of journalism become real. The book is about his unwinding as a journalist. No longer can he witness devastation and remain detached from suffering. The tiny hands of this baby girl wrap around his heart and awaken his humanity.
What does it take for a statistic to become a story?
I will keep answering this question over the next few weeks.
Check out Love in the Driest Season.