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China Ghosts

In his riveting new memoir, Jeff Gammage creates a poignant and insightful chronicle of the making of a family.William Morrow; $25.95

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A couple travels to a distant land to adopt a small child. They are filled with hope, anxiety, fear, joy, and more—a tumbling of emotions from within and from without. They are exhausted. There are surprises and intense worries. A new family is born. Love is amazing.

This is both a familiar and unique tale, a saga that any adoptive family will recognize. We love to tell it, and we love to hear it. Whatever form it takes, it is our story.

Jeff Gammage’s memoir, China Ghosts (William Morrow), is told from the perspective of a new father. Gammage is a wonderful and affecting writer—and also an expert journalist. China Ghosts interweaves his family’s story with a collage of observations about the country where his daughter was born, discussing both ancient history and the current social and political situations that have impacted so many families.

Mostly, this is a personal story, written in the present tense, as events and emotions unfold. Gammage details the ups and downs of his journey to fatherhood, his joy and sadness, worry and relief, his feelings of guilt and helplessness, anger and acceptance. And he writes beautifully. Here he is on the Great Wall, struggling to take in a vast landscape but able to focus on only one small face: “Looking out across the Jindu Mountains, I don’t feel history’s hand on my shoulder. I can’t see the breastplates of ancient warriors gleaming in the summer haze, nor hear the ghostly whinny of their horses as they ride again to long-concluded battles. All I see are trees. And all I can think of is a child, soon to be my daughter.”

This book will evoke memories for anyone who has gone through the adoption process, and it will bring to life the process for those who want to know more about the journey.

ELIZA THOMAS, author of The Road Home (Algonguin) and The Red Blanket (Scholastic), lives in Vermont with her daughter, PanPan.

Q&A with
Jeff Gammage

Q. Why did you write this book?
Mostly, I wrote this book so that my eldest daughter would have a complete account of her adoption. But it is my story, too. Both of us were changed by the experience. Jin Yu came to her new life with memories of her old. Everything else—her friends, her language, her culture—she surrendered. At heart, China Ghosts is a book about gain and loss.

Q. Why the title China Ghosts?
Sometimes I feel that Jin Yu’s Chinese parents are almost standing beside me, watching her grow. I think about her Chinese relatives and the children still living in the orphanage. This is the ghost family I have brought home from China.

Q. How long did it take to write?
It took two or three years to write China Ghosts. It was hard to find the time to write, given the demands of a full-time job and a busy household. It was even harder, though, to try to come to terms with the truths of my daughter’s life.

Q. Why did you decide to adopt?
My wife, Christine, really wanted to be a mother. I didn’t want to be a father at all until we met Jin Yu and I saw how funny she was, and how good. She’s simply a joy and I’m lucky to be her father.

Q. What do you expect from Chinese adoption in the future?
I can foresee a day when the girls will be able to openly search for and find their Chinese parents. The eldest girls are now adolescents. I can’t wait for the time, and it’s not far off, when the girls tell us what they think of their experience.

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