Zinnhouse Book Review
Originally Published October 20, 2015 | By: Lauren Zinn
Though not an interfaith book, this story has inter-ness all over it. Interracial, intercultural, international. Such inter-connectedness is a hallmark of the interfaith movement. This mom deserves gratitude for paving an inter-way.
Mary Koral’s memoir of motherhood spans the adoption of three children, each from a different country, at a time when international adoption was rare. Her story provides not only a deeper understanding of adoption in general, and of international adoption in particular, but of the essence of motherhood. Her writing lures us in with a wise and poetic voice, a keen perception of people, and a strong sense of the places she calls home. While her tapestry highlights interracial and intercultural threads, the whole is greater than its parts, and the weaving masterful.
This true story begins where it ends, so we know from the get go that the children make it. The kids’ personal challenges, the parents’ eternal commitment to them, and the metaphors used to convey it, have you wanting all of the middle. For example, Koral writes, “I don’t think all adopted kids have issues…But. It isn’t an easy road. Great, not easy. Like those skinny Grand Canyon trails.” (179) “…her anger found all of us; we were like those receptacles in front of public buildings, the ones filled with sand that a person can plunge burning cigarettes into. We took the burn.” (168) And, “She distributed pain like it was so many sticks of gum.” (188)
Besides her use of language, Koral structures her story to propel us alongside her growing family. Cliff hangers, foreshadowing, and flashbacks all grace her pages. She’ll be describing something and then say, “It wasn’t always that way,” and we are drawn in. We cannot help but care about how the story unfolds. We cannot help but wonder if we could have managed it. Cannot help but root for these kids and rejoice with this family. And if you live in Ann Arbor, cannot help but imagine having seen them at their favorite stamping grounds.
The Year the Trees Didn’t Die offers insights to those raising adopted children, inspiration to those considering, and wisdom for those who have. The author reflects, “Would it be different now? I think so…There’s an awareness that didn’t exist back then. And that awareness came from those early years, from families like ours.” (211) And we all benefit. We understand now not only how difficult and rewarding adoption can be but glimpse the universality of parenthood. We recognize our own family struggles and learn we might not understand what we’re going through until later. Thank God for later because it helps us tap our compassion for now.
Lauren Zinn, Interfaith Minister, Rev., Educational Planner, Ph.D., writes on the intersection of religion and culture.