Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar

In 1991 nine year old Anton, who is mixed race, was left in his sweltering apartment in the "projects" for a week while his mother went out seeking crack.  She intended to return but was raped and imprisoned by her dealer in payment of her debts.  Eventually, after subsisting on whatever crumbs he could find in the apartment Anton throws a chair at a window and escapes from the broken window.  He cuts his leg and the trail of blood leads a local policeman to find him and turn him over to child services.

David Coleman, a prominent lawyer and son of a retired state senator, and his wife Delores have lost their only son who was killed in a car accident on the night of his prom.  David hopes to restore some of the light to Delores' eyes by fostering a child and Anton is placed with them.

David is so happy to have a bright young boy to nurture that he takes advantage of his position and connections to get a longer sentence for Anton's mother than she would normally have received.  In the two and a half years that she is in prison David works to educate Anton - both academically and on how to behave given his new station in life.  Though Anton is treated well and comfortable with the Colemans he counts the days until he can return to his mother - and he refuses to call David and Delores Mom and Dad though they want him to.

When Anton's mother's prison term is nearing an end David is unwilling to return Anton to his former life and again manipulates everyone around him so that Anton's mother gives up her parental rights allowing the Coleman's to adopt him.  While he has the help of his best friend in this endeavour, neither Delores nor Anton have any idea what he has done.

The book then skips ahead 10 years to 9/11 when Anton is in college and falls in love with a radical black woman.  At one point in anger she tells him she can't tell if he's the blackest white man she's ever met or the whitest black man.  This dilemma haunts Anton throughout the book as he is thrust by David into a life at Harvard (as a legacy), Harvard law, as a lawyer and attorney general and eventually running to replace David as governor.

During the run for governor Anton is finally contacted again by his birth mother and the secrets of his past are revealed.  The last chapters address how Anton, his birth mother and his adoptive parents all struggle with this.

I have left out a lot of the detail of the middle of the book dealing with Anton's life (there are sections in 2001, 2012 and 2016), but it all is interesting in leading us to the man Anton grew to become both because of and despite his adoption.

I enjoyed this book - and many of the themes are very topical.

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