The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past by Karin Evans + Author Interview [in aOnline]
Just days after the death of her beloved father, Karin Evans and her husband, Mark, experienced one of the most joyful events of their life: holding their daughter for the first time – a tiny one-year-old Chinese bundle who looked into their eyes a little startled and promptly fell back to sleep. Like 30,000 other Chinese girls adopted by foreigners, Kelly Xiao Yu, would be raised oceans away from where she was born, part of a growing international diaspora of a generation lost to China.
In her new book, The Lost Daughters of China; Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past, Evans, a journalist and editor, attempts to make sense of the circumstances that have, on the one hand, brought endless joy to once-childless parents, and on the other hand, created a tragic, silent population of lost Chinese mothers and fathers.
What was the initial impetus to write this book?
It began long before I ever lay eyes on little Kelly. I knew I had at least a year to wait. I started a journal, writing letters to an unknown child in China that I was thinking so much about. It seemed so profound that if I succeeded in getting though all the adoption hurdles, my life would forever be linked to this little girl. At the time, I was in a writing group in San Francisco, and I was encouraged by the women in the group to show someone these letters, so eventually, I showed them to an agent and got a good response. Then Kelly came into our lives. We went to China, like visitors who swept into the country, and left with this little treasure. All the while, I just kept writing to her, and kept writing even after we brought her home. My writing opened up to greater inquiry out of a desire to learn enough to tell my daughter someday about the circumstances under which she had been born, and how she came to live an ocean away from where she was born. I showed another agent these letters and together, we came up with a proposal. The agent sold it in two weeks to Penguin Putnam. In the process of writing the book, the letters got condensed to just a few pages. The rest was research done in earnest: not being a China scholar or even Chinese, I had to piece together the pieces of a puzzle.
Here’s a practical question: how did you find the balance between writing a book and raising a small child at the same time?
That was kind of funny. While I was waiting for her, I had a full-time job but still felt like I had all the time in the world. I just kept writing and writing and the pages built up into a huge pile. I was very naive and thought that my daughter would read her books or play with her toys next to me while I was on the computer. Once we got her home, my writing rhythm changed considerably. I didn’t write for the first six months; I had taken a family leave from my job at Health magazine. Eventually, I found a wonderful woman, who took care of Kelly four hours a day. My office is downstairs in our house, so as I wrote, I could hear her little feet above my head and always knew she was there. I knew I only had four hours each day, so I really applied myself. And I also wrote some at night, after she went to sleep.
You, too, are adopted – by your father. And you had a very special bond with him, even naming your daughter after him. Talk a little about your own adoption story. Did you have the desire to find and know your birth father?
My mother had been married before, and when they divorced, my biological father disappeared. This happened before I was four years old. I knew nothing of him; I didn’t remember much of him at all. My mother remarried, a man named Kelly. When he legally adopted him, he did it very ceremoniously. He took me to court – I was about six – and we had a little ceremony with the judge. Afterwards, he gave me an opal ring, and said I was his own daughter forever. My mother and he had three more children, but I always felt a part of the family. I shared a very happy, chosen bond with my father. Had I been curious about my biological father, I might have undertaken a search for him eventually, but when I was 18, he just showed up. I was at college and he called and said, “This is your Dad. I’m coming to Boulder with my wife and we would like to take you out to dinner.” I remember sitting on the wall outside my dorm waiting for him, thinking, “Would I feel some huge bolt of something when I finally meet him?” And the answer was no. I met him, he seemed like a nice man, but it was all rather anticlimactic. I kept up with him for a bit; I went when he invited me to his house. But my real emotional tie was with my adoptive father. My birth father and I didn’t have much of a connection. Of course, this is only my story – there are people who have had any number of connections and have had experiences that are on the other side of the scale from mine. For me, it was nice to meet him, but he didn’t change my life. He died six or seven years ago. I’ve kept up with his mother, my paternal grandmother, who is over 100, and his sister, my aunt. Ironically, I feel more connected to them than I did with him. They’re my auxiliary family. Again, this is just my story.
So why China? What about the children available closer to home?
When we started the adoption process, my husband and I were older parents, both over 40. We were open to any child. We loved the idea of adoption; we knew we couldn’t have children our own. A friend of ours had adopted a little boy from Paraguay, and she suggested we go talk to this great international adoption agency she used. So we went, and they outlined our options. They suggested China because there were so many children already waiting, and the process was already pretty streamlined, which meant adoptions happened relatively quickly. We saw a picture on the wall of little Chinese girls, and then when we heard that they were waiting, Mark and I just knew where we would find our daughter. I had also lived in Hong Kong as a young journalist and felt comfortable in that culture. I’ve actually been asked in many interviews about why we didn’t try looking closer to home. And the only answer I have is that it was fate – it was an individual, not necessarily logical choice. We were led to an agency, showed a picture of little girls, and we just said yes. It was not so much that we were ruling out other possibilities as just being drawn to this one. …[click here for more]