Every adoption story is a mysterious stew of longing, loss, and searching love. I learned that firsthand from my sister Lisa, my oldest sibling, who was 19 in October 1961 when she found herself pregnant and unable to keep her infant daughter. I was just five at the time, and three decades passed before Lisa ever told me her secret. On the day she finally did—sitting with me on my front porch in Southern California—something extraordinary happened. At her home in Phoenix, the phone rang. The caller spoke briefly with my sister’s husband, but left no message. We later learned that coincidental call was from her lost daughter, then 30 and living in Ohio, trying for the first time to contact her birth mother.
Like I said, mysterious.
So when people ask me what inspired my novel “The Disappeared Girl,” which Diversion Books launched on March 4, 2014, that’s the story I tell them. I saw firsthand how both mother and child carry the weight of adoption, and how that burden can last lifetimes. And I came to understand in a personal way an adopted child’s need to know, and a mother’s enduring bond with a missing child.
I carried that experience into “The Disappeared Girl,” which is a suspense thriller about an American father and his adopted daughter who plunge into a high-stakes search for the truth about her past. That search leads them into a deep, dark well of family secrets, and into the crosshairs of an international fugitive who’ll do anything to keep those secrets buried. Researching the novel took me back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, into the grim, now-open secrets of Argentina’s Dirty War, during which an estimated 30,000 people vanished into a shadowy government system intent on rooting out subversives.
My sister’s story of disconnection and searching love took on a global dimension when I learned that some of the Dirty War’s political prisoners were pregnant women, and that about 500 babies born to those women were stolen and funneled into a now-notorious adoption pipeline designed to shore up loyalty to that morally bankrupt government. After giving birth, many of the mothers simply disappeared.
Then something extraordinary happened. The mothers of the women who endured that ordeal formed a collective conscience called The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Beginning in 1977, and at great risk, those brave women began gathering in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires to focus world attention on that tragedy, and to learn the fate of their lost children and grandchildren. Their drama may have played out on a world stage, but their driving motivation was precisely the same as the one that eventually reunited my sister and her first daughter. The courage and determination of those mothers—of all disconnected mothers and children—should humble us all.
By comparison, my role was relatively simple: To knit those twin strands of reality into a novel that not only entertains, but also acknowledges and celebrates that courage. If “The Disappeared Girl” does all that, it will have succeeded.
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Published on March 03, 2014 07:39 • 210 views

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Book Blather and Random Mutterings

Martin J. Smith
Novelist, journalist, and nonfiction author Martin J. Smith blogs about his books, as well as various and sundry obsessions.
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