Friday, September 4, 2015

Philomena: The Story of a Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search, by Martin Sixsmith (author), John Curless (narrator)

Recorded Books, October 2013 (original publication 2009)

In 1952, Philomena Lee became pregnant our of wedlock in an Ireland where that just wasn't allowed to happen. She was sent to a convent to give birth to her baby, and would live there for three years, caring for her son and working in the convent's commercial laundry. At the end of that time, Philomena was forced to sign him over to the convent for adoption, and he was effectively sold to an American couple.

She loved her beautiful, happy son, and despite being forced to sign him away and promise never to seek to find him, she made her first attempt less than a year later. Meanwhile, her son, now named Michael Hess, grew up in America, and wondered and worried why his birth mother had given him up.

Michael experienced the hard version of some of the challenges of being adopted in the era of closed adoptions, but he was smart, handsome, hardworking, and kind. He grew up to be a lawyer, and a leading official in the first Bush administration.

Philomena was torn by her desire to know what happened to her son on the one hand, and the insistence of the sisters that even talking about her baby born in sin was another sin. She became a nurse, married, and raised a family, but eventually started looking for her son again.

We get Philomena's experiences up to the point of Michael's adoption, and then we go following his life in America, occasionally interspersed with Sixsmith's account of how he got involved in the search for him. We don't get back to Philomena's story until the end. I found this a bit frustrating; I would have preferred a more even dividing and alternation of their experiences, and frankly could have waiting for Sixsmith's story of how he became involved until Philomena's story reached that point.

Despite that complaint, this is a well-researched, thoughtful, moving story, that reveals a dark side of Ireland and the Catholic Church in the 20th century, without demonizing either.

Recommended.

I bought this book.