I finished a book the other day, and I’ve had an irresistible urge to talk about it to every person I’ve seen since then. Have you had that experience from reading?
If you want to feel that way, read Catana Tully’s Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity.
It’s a book about adoption, but then it’s not quite about adoption.
Tully was born to a Guatemalan woman of African origin, but she grew up in the household of a German family living in Guatemala. She became a proper German young lady and eventually moved to Germany, where she became a fashion model and movie star.
Although many questions arise for the reader about Tully’s background, the girl herself doesn’t question the narrative she has been given by her German mother.
Only belatedly does Tully realize there is much to be learned about her origins.
Tully moves to the United States where she suffers an identity crisis. She isn’t African-American, although she is a Black woman. Eventually, she realizes the hard truth that she is racist toward African-Americans because she has so absorbed the subtle teachings of her childhood.
She studies and ultimately teaches Ethnic Studies and learns that she has been colonized by the German family who raised her. She begins the long struggle to learn who she is and from where she comes. To do so, she must search for her birth mother (who has since passed away) and her birth father. Along the way, she meets her birth siblings and another father who tells her that he is her birth father. Additionally, after years of a difficult relationship, she reunites with the German sister who was old enough to be her mother and helped raised her. All this is necessary for Tully’s identity education.
I found Tully’s search to be suspenseful and fascinating. The book reads like a mystery or detective novel in the latter half. The reader learns the truth along with Tully.
What makes Tully’s story similar to the stories of other transracial adoptees, such as my children who were born in Korea, and what makes it different?
The way Tully absorbed the culture of her German mother and didn’t really “see” herself as the birth child of a Black woman seems true to the experience of many transracial adoptees.
Where I think it differs is here:
It’s not only where her experience differs, but something that upset me on behalf of the young woman Catana Tully. She was never legally adopted by her German family. Therefore, when the mother dies (the father had been gone for years), the older (bio) daughter inherits the estate, but Tully does not. Tully writes about this injustice, but presents it fairly objectively. Rather than Tully telling the reader how to feel, the reader must pick up the responsibility and get angry (and I sure did).
So Tully had no legal rights as a daughter of the only family she knew at the point that her German mother died. That she was loved very much is evident, but she was betrayed by this loving parent who didn’t do right by her in death.
The way the book ends answers most of my questions, although I still felt that the German family was an enigma. But what was important was that Tully’s birth parents came to life for me and surpassed the German mother’s heavy influence. Tully’s life seems to blossom into wholeness by the last words of the book.
The only weak point I could find is that the book could have used another editor’s eyes for typos, but I’m picky about those, and many readers might not even notice them.