ADOPTING ALYOSHA: A SINGLE MAN FINDS A SON IN RUSSIA By Robert Klose University Press of Mississippi/Jackson 165 pp., $22
"I had not grown up until, at the age of thirty-nine, I adopted a child." So begins Robert Klose's account of his experience
in the foreign-adoption process, a "subculture" that doesn't quite know what to do with single men. While single women have long been permitted to adopt children - and in the process have established a lengthy and successful track record - adoption by single men in the United States is a rarity.
Stories of the hazards encountered even by traditional, married couples attempting foreign adoptions are legion - red tape, crooked adoption agencies, impenetrable bureaucracies, last minute complications, and staggering expenses. Klose encounters all of these and more, as many countries and agencies simply won't work with a single man.
The author's decision not to adopt an infant or toddler further limits his prospects. For most parents pursuing an adoption, the process takes about a year; for Klose, it is nearly 2-1/2 years from the time he attends his first informational meeting in 1991 until he arrives home from Moscow with seven-year-old Alyosha in tow.
Why would anyone submit to such an undertaking? "Although the concept of what constitutes a family has changed greatly in America in recent decades, our desire to constitute a family at all costs swells great within us. I was gripped by this need as well," explains the author, a biology professor at University College of Bangor, Maine.
"Adoption was my opportunity to form a family of my own," he writes. "If adoption by a single man was a possibility, then I wanted to try to make it happen."
The first half of this appealing and instructive memoir is taken up with the lengthy process in the US that precedes the referral of a foreign-born child: meetings, interviews, parenting classes, paperwork, references, homestudy, more paperwork, and a constant outflow of cash.
Klose initially envisions adopting a boy from South America - he assumes from the start that a single man would never be offered a girl for adoption - because he speaks Spanish, and his early efforts focus on adoption possibilities throughout that part of the world. All of these come to naught, either because countries will not work with single men or because their fees are too high. (A Peruvian adoption, for instance, costs $10,000, plus travel expenses. Some countries are even higher.)
During the long and emotional cycle of hope and disappointment, Klose expands his outlook and investigates prospects in other parts of the world. Two years into the process, and desperate, he stumbles onto an opportunity in Russia. This one, at last, results in a referral, although the adoption isn't complete until he has actually brought the boy home with him.
The second half of "Adopting Alyosha," in which the author recounts his trip to Russia and events leading up to the completed adoption, spans just a few weeks. Klose has an acute eye for detail and considerable storytelling skills, both of which are showcased especially well in the second half of the book. His observations of post-communist Russia and Russians are fascinating and entertaining, and the scene in which the author, at long last, meets his son is quite moving. The climax of the story, involving eleventh-hour complications with a provincial bureaucrat and frantic attempts by the local adoption agency to get final clearance for the adoption before time runs out, reads like a cold-war thriller.
* David Conrads is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Mo.