rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a non-fiction book, not a novel, about a American couple who went to Taiwan in the early 70s on a Fulbright scholarship, and ended up leaving with a baby girl that the father, Avraham Schwartzbaum found abandoned in a train station. This couple may have been one of the first couples to adopt from China. There certainly were no established procedures for foreign adoption from China, so the Schwartzbaum couple had to fight tooth-and-nail with both the Chinese and U.S. bureaucracies to take their baby girl home with them.
The Bamboo Cradle continues the adoption story along with the Schwartzbaums's decision to become Orthodox Jews due to their interest in converting their daughter to Judaism, and details about Devora growing up in the Orthodox community in communities in the U.S. and in Israel. They don't gloss over the challenges, racism and difficulties. You read about both their positive experiences along with the negative, and the difficult decisions that they had to make along the way.
What's nice about this book is that the story continues until Devora is a teenager, and doesn't end when they come home from China or soon afterwards like most books do.
I have read this book repeatedly over the last 20 years, each time with a different perspective. I read this book as a fascinated teenager, as Devora is my age and we attended the same school for a year, so I actually knew who she was, but had no idea how a Chinese girl ended up in a school in Israel (in the mid 80s, there were very few Asians in Israel at all, so she definitely was noticeable). I then read it as an adult who understood more of the story line and issues than a teenager did. After marrying, I read it as an infertile woman, struggling to conceive. Now I read it as a potential adoptive parent who is concerned about her decision to adopt a child from a different race, and integrating the child in the Orthodox Jewish community. Obviously, I find this book very, very relevant.
An Amazon reviewer complained that they didn't know what happened next, and doubted that it had a happy ending. I can tell you that the book *does* have a happy ending. Devora occasionally gives speeches about her childhood and her current life, and I've made contact with her with the hope that she can later advise me and serve as a role model for my daughter(s) (or sons). She married an Orthodox Jewish man (another famous Jewish writer, Ruchoma Shain, made her "shidduch", match), has several gorgeous children, and currently lives in the U.S. She seems well integrated in her community, and pretty well-adjusted.
As you may be able to guess from the fact that they were in Taiwan on a Fulbright scholarship, the Schwartzbaum couple are very, very well educated. Avraham is a sociologist, and his wife, Barbara, is an accomplished linguist. The book is therefore exceptionally well-written and absolutely fascinating. Avraham pulls you into their story from the very first paragraph, and doesn't let you go until the end. There is also a chapter written by Barbara that explains her perspective. The end of the book includes excerpts from Devora's diaries, which I really enjoyed as a teenager! She and I had very similar feelings and writing styles.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. My copy is beginning to fall apart, and other people always want to borrow it after I rave about it, so I need to find two hard cover copies for my personal library.
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