After the death of his son, Judge Coleman uses his influence and connections to foster and adopt 9-year-old African-American Anton, convincing his mother Anton is happier with the Colemans. She’d been kidnapped and drugged by her dealer, leaving Anton locked in their apartment during a heat wave with little food, until he escaped a week later, unaware of his mother’s whereabouts. Judge Coleman’s position and wealth boost Anton up through the ranks of politics, with Anton choosing to have no contact with a mother he believes rejected him. The secrets seep out eventually, damaging the Coleman’s marriage and Anton’s relationships with all of his parents, as Anton desperately tries to determine his identity.
The crux of the story is that a black mother’s son is stolen from her by a white man, whiffs of slavery nipping at her heels. As Umrigar presents white privilege and systemic racism within the judicial system, she attempts to garner sympathy for a man in a powerful position based on the loss of his son and his emotional distress debating his desire to have a child and the ethical choice to keep a family together. He chooses poorly and everyone struggles with his decision.
This is not the first child Rachel Shepherd has lost, but it’s the one that stayed with her the longest, becoming a stillborn baby with a name rather than a miscarriage. She is heartbroken and feeling adrift after losing this baby, her mother recently, and possibly her marriage. She longs for family, for her roots, and so begins searching for her long-lost, journalist father, following the trail to a mysterious woman from his past, an American who raises orphans in Rwanda. Her father’s history is complicated, with her birth being the catalyst for the seemingly wrong turn in his youth. Ambiguous feelings arise with each new discovery, the hurt surfacing to be dealt with and move toward healing. Rachel’s need for family dredges up old wounds in Lillian, the inscrutable, second wife of her father, who does her best to stay above the quagmire of these ancient pains. Things have changed, and everyone finds something they didn’t know they were looking for, and didn’t know they needed.
This book digs down deep into the complexities of decisions affecting relationships of spouses, parent and child, and chosen family. It also portrays the genocide of Rwanda at an individual level, delving into the politics and showing the impossibility of the situation for former friends and neighbors.
I was fortunate to receive a digital ARC through NetGalley of this wonderful novel.