With some 30,000 Chinese children, mostly daughters, being raised throughout the West, books addressing transracial adoption are growing rapidly. "Wuhu Diary: On Taking My Adopted Daughter Back to Her Hometown in China," by novelist Emily Prager, offers new enlightenment, but unfortunately, it's marred by old misunderstandings.
In previous generations, adoptive parents were concerned about their foreign-born children assimilating quickly into the dominant Western culture. But recent adoptive parents tend to be culturally savvy, determined to expose their new children to the riches of their native culture. That Prager travels to the other side of the globe to reintroduce her daughter to her homeland is not surprising. "I want to know all about my daughter, every moment that she wasn't with me," Prager writes.
"Wuhu Diary" chronicles mother and daughter's seven-week journey to Wuhu, a small city in the southern Chinese province of Anhui, where LuLu eventually celebrates her fifth birthday. There she attends the local preschool, an excellent opportunity to experience her native country among her own peers.
Prager also hopes to find any further information about LuLu, who was discovered as a baby just outside a police station.
Unfortunately, anti-American sentiment following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kosovo during the Pragers' stay, blocks any chance of visiting the orphanage from which LuLu was adopted. Determined to create a sense of closure, Prager takes LuLu to a different orphanage in nearby Hefei, so they can both see an approximation of where LuLu spent an early part of her life.
The book's most illuminating moments are when LuLu is given voice: "She seems to be trying out a life she might have had," writes Prager. Indeed, LuLu creates her own extended family, finding Chinese sisters and brothers, even a mother and father among the Wuhu hotel staff.
The book's more exasperating portions, however, expose naiveté and stereotyped misunderstandings of Asians. Prager marvels at a Chinese woman on the New York subway "laughing heartily and chatting with a friend ... [who] smiled this glorious smile [at Prager], which was a rather uncharacteristic thing for a Chinese woman to do at a stranger."
Her assumptions are many: How does she know this woman is Chinese, or that she isn't, say, a fifth-generation Chinese American, and why would a laughing Asian-American woman on a New York subway, in America, smiling at a stranger be considered "uncharacteristic"?
And about her own daughter, Prager notes: "This is the very un-Chinese part of her, her comfort with complexity," implying ridiculously that Chinese (and therefore Americans of Chinese descent) can't be comfortable with complexity.
Too many moments like these hinder what might have been an enjoyable read. What will be more interesting will be reading LuLu's book, in her own words. Judging by the precocity Prager has captured, that might not be too far away.
Terry Hong is books columnist for aMagazine: Inside Asian America.
By Emily Prager Random House 238 pp., $21.95