London Review of Books contributing editor Harding (The Uninvited: Refugees at the Rich Man’s Gate, 2000, etc.) seeks his birth mother after 50 years.
As a child, the author lived along the waters of the Thames with the family that took him when he was less than two weeks old. At the age of five, Harding was informed that he was adopted and that his natural parents were a young Irish maiden and a Scandinavian sailor, not his capricious, tippling mother and his cocky, bridge-card hustler father. As an adult, he searched for his parents, scouring birth records, voting registrations and death reports and interviewing old neighbors with faulty memories. Harding compiled a dossier, a burgeoning portfolio of known and implied facts about the Hibernian girl who bore him half a century earlier. The author knew a few hard facts: She arrived in England after the war, lived at 43 Mackenzie Close and worked at a chain store. But who was she? What was she like? Was there a physical resemblance? Did he have brothers or sisters? Plotted craftily, his journal of discovery unfolds memorably, and his detective work, sometimes desultory, often assiduous, was finally productive. Along the way, Harding also uncovered the saga of his adoptive mother’s rise to a better class of society. As a proper memoirist must do, he invests the narrative of his familiar parents with unique character in his story of natural and acquired parentage. A fitting denouement, as well as a new introduction for American readers, is provided. “I’ve tried to tell a story: this is not a campaigning book,” he writes. “Nevertheless, it’s a powerful illustration of what can happen when an adopted person, whose birth certificate shows only the names of the adoptive parents, exercises a legal right to see the original birth certificate.”An able, imaginative work of kinship and family.