Split Between Privilege and Denial, The Truth Brings Wholeness

by Luanne

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.

Split at the Root is a well-written and thoroughly engaging memoir even for those not interested in adoption, and for anybody connected to adoption it is a must read.


  1. Thanks for the review of this book. I’ll be picking it up soon!

  2. Lisa Ercolano says:

    Thanks for this, Luanne. I, too, am going to read it.

  3. I’ll add this to my reading list as I really appreciated your recommendation of Three Little Words.

  4. Luanne, thank you so much for this insightful and honest review. I am humbled and immensely pleased that my story resonated so well with your and your daughter’s adoption experiences. The book is doing well as required reading in colleges and universities from social studies and social work, to literature courses. It is currently being translated into German and French. So, I am pleased at the universal resonance it has had. And the typos should have been eliminated in a later update… I embrace you, and thank you again! Catana

    • You’re welcome, Catana. I’m so excited for you that the book is being picked up as required reading! I used to teach college lit, and I can see where it would fill in a gap because of your unique experience, and the writing style is lovely. Re the typos: haha, I almost didn’t put that point in the review because I thought if I were Catana that is all I would read of the review ;). But I wanted to show that my positive response to the book wasn’t hype, and that I was giving a completely “upfront” reaction to my reading. Glad to know that they will be eliminated and that the book will continue to be printed and read by many for years to come! Best wishes to you.

  5. And a request!!

    It really would mean a lot to me if you cared to “Like” Split’s FB page. Here’s the link: http://www.facebook.com/splitattheroot

    You know how social media is; I’m still trying to get a handle on it!

    Thank you so much, and have a beautiful rest of the day!


    • Done. I liked your FB page and also did it for this blog page and another blog page. I hope others will do so also!

      • Thank you for the effort, Luanne, but the Likes didn’t take. It is so aggravating with FB sometimes they don’t stick. Even happens when I try to post a blogpost. There were 253 and there still are only 235… Grrr… A hug, Catana

  6. A lot of Filipinos work abroad, and I am sure kids of our race experience a similar situation. It’s quite sad. It is not a glaring experience but it must be a really difficult phase in an individual’s growing years. =<

    • Can you explain more about the circumstances under which they work abroad? Is it children that work abroad or their parents?

      • I was thinking of individuals who raise a family abroad and children Are horn into a foreign country. Somehow there’s a tendency for roots to be lost…jot quote about adoption but the question on identity can be encountered as well..

        • So the loss of identity with emigration. I am so used to the notion of that type of loss since I live in the United States where it happens all the time (and has for centuries) that it’s really interesting to hear you voice that concern from your perspective.

          • Hi Luanne, Hope the deep freeze did not affect you… I’ve figured out how to keep the “Like” button on Split’s facebook page, and would love it if you’d click on it now to make it count.


            All the very best, and thanks so much, again,


            On Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 7:16 AM, Don’t We Look Alike? wrote:

            > Don’t We Look Alike? commented: “So the loss of identity with > emigration. I am so used to the notion of that type of loss since I live in > the United States where it happens all the time (and has for centuries) > that it’s really interesting to hear you voice that concern from your > perspec” >

          • Catana, I just unliked and liked your page from my own FB self. See if that worked?

        • In reality everyone grapples with “Who am I?”, and “How do I fit in?” at some point in life. Immigration is as aspect of identity loss, but as long as the family stays together, and there is a supportive cultural community, the personal identity connects to the communal immigration experience. The younger generation assimilates and adjusts well. The nostalgia for a remembered homeland remains with the parents and elders.

  7. I will put this on my reading list. Thanks Luanne!

  8. Wow. This is definitely going on my must-read list. Thanks for writing such a great review!

  9. Had to stop reading when I hit the “spoiler alert” b/c between this and your other blog post I am intrigued enough to give it a try – even though it is far from my “normal” read. I do like to change things up a bit now and then – thanks, ladies!

  10. Thanks Luanne, an interesting review. Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  11. I absolutely love this wonderful memoir, and I’ve told many people about it. Check my review of it on Amazon (under “Elaine Coleman”)


  1. […] Monday I posted a review of this book on the blog my daughter and I write about […]

  2. […] the Stereotype (Adult Adoptee Anthology). I’ve reviewed Tully’s book before at “Split Between Privilege and Denial, The Truth Brings Wholeness.” Check out the review for a better idea about this important book for anyone interested in […]

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