This is a very readable and engaging memoir, about a British journalist’s trip to Eritrea to meet her birth family. As a baby, Hannah Pool was adopted from an orphanage by a white couple then working in Sudan. She grew up primarily in England, and had no contact with her birth family until age 29, when she finally followed up on a letter a brother had sent her a decade before. Meeting a cousin in London ultimately led to her taking a two-week trip to Eritrea, where she met her biological father, several siblings and extended family. Initially she arranged to meet the family in the capital, Asmara, but she wound up traveling to her father’s and sister’s remote villages to see their real lives and the place where she was born.
The book is more an emotional memoir than a travelogue: whether because the author is an especially sensitive person or because of the emotional nature of her trip (probably a combination of the two), she has a lot of feelings about everything and describes them in detail. This basically works: the subject matter is interesting, and her writing is clear and engaging and makes for quick reading. And we do get the chance to learn about Eritrea along with the author. Ultimately, though, it’s a deeply personal story, as the author struggles with her own identity, with becoming part of a “new” family without betraying her adoptive father and siblings, with trying to connect to family members with whom she has no common language, and with her feelings about having been put up for adoption.
Despite all that, this memoir still feels fairly lightweight. It is, after all, an entire book about a two-week visit. And it was published a mere two years after the trip, an astonishingly quick turnaround, especially if we assume close to a year for the editing and publishing process before the book hit the shelves. It’s evident that the author was still processing events at the time she wrote it, and she seems to struggle particularly with describing the effects of the trip on her life. No doubt this was a life-changing experience, but at the time of this writing she hadn’t yet had the chance to see her Eritrean family again, and instead writes about, for instance, seeking out Eritrean restaurants. What I really want to read is the book she writes 20 or 30 years after the trip, about how both her biological and adoptive families fit into her life.
That said, I’m glad the author still wrote this book; it provided a few pleasant evenings’ reading for me, and would likely offer a much deeper connection for those who share some of the author’s experiences. Certainly worth seeking out for those interested in Eritrea or international adoption.