What is adoption? No doubt, providing a better life for a child. But what impact does it have on the adoptee? Particularly if the child is a twin and has a family back home.
Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family by Erika Hayaski peels back the layers to uncover the harsh truths of interracial and transnational adoptions. Asian and Asian American identity, the nature versus nurture debate, poverty and privilege, and what it means to give a child a good life.
Identical twins Isabella and Hà were born in Vietnam and raised on opposite sides of the world, each knowing little about the other’s existence until they were reunited as teenagers, against all odds.
The twins were born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1998, where their mother struggled to care for them. Hà was taken in by their biological aunt, and grew up in a rural village, going to school, and playing outside with the neighbors. They had sporadic electricity and frequent monsoons. Hà’s twin sister, Loan, spent time in an orphanage before a wealthy, white American family adopted her and renamed her Isabella. Isabella grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, with a nonbiological sister, Olivia, also adopted from Vietnam. Isabella and Olivia attended a predominantly white Catholic school, played soccer, and prepared for college.
But when Isabella’s adoptive mother learned of Isabella’s biological twin back in Vietnam, all of their lives changed forever. Award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki spent years and hundreds of hours interviewing each of the birth and adoptive family members and tells the girls’ incredible story from their perspectives, challenging conceptions about adoption and what it means to give a child a good life. Hayasaki contextualizes the sisters’ experiences with the fascinating and often sinister history of twin studies, the nature versus nurture debate, and intercountry and transracial adoption, as well as the latest scholarship and conversation surrounding adoption today, especially among adoptees.
“SOMEWHERE SISTERS is stirring and unforgettable — a breathtaking adoption saga like no other; a provocative exploration into the ideas of family and belonging; and a deeply meaningful meditation on what makes us who we are and what connects us to one another.”
—Robert Kolker, New York Times-bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road and Lost Girls
“Deeply researched, artfully woven, and lyrically written, SOMEWHERE SISTERS explores the harsh reality behind international transracial adoption. Hayasaki is a master storyteller, and her compassion for her subjects is evident on every page. Her meticulous exploration into the dark legacy of nature-nurture studies, American saviorism, and the science of attachment is a powerful addition to our understanding of the lifelong impact of adoption.”
—Gabrielle Glaser, author of the New York Times notable book American Baby
“A heartbreaking, many times maddening tale of three adoptees, two of whom are twins separated at birth, who find themselves at the intersection of nature and nurture, fighting against fate and circumstance to carve out their own destinies. Seamlessly weaving historical context with brilliant reportage, Hayasaki delivers an incisive and poignant exploration of the world of transracial adoption and twinship, bearing witness to the profound struggles of those caught between two worlds, trying to define themselves.”
—Ly Tran, author of House of Sticks
“Hayasaki reveals the racial and class prejudices at the root of [transnational] adoptions without losing sight of the complexities of human emotions and family ties. This is a clear-eyed and well-grounded take on a thorny social issue.”
“Hayasaki weaves their reflections about belonging, heritage, and identity—gleaned from hundreds of hours of interviews with the girls and their birth and adoptive families—with a broad consideration of adoption and twin studies that aim to shed light on the extent to which genes and environment shape human behavior, personality, and development. An engaging portrait of intersected lives.”
“Fascinating and moving on its own, the sisters’ complex story of growing up, both together and apart, is complemented by Hayasaki’s illumination of the personal, psychological, and sociocultural realities of adoption.”
“Well-researched and compassionately written, SOMEWHERE SISTERS is a journey from separations to reunions, from individual lives to the history of adoption. Urgent and compelling, this book asks important questions about responsibility and ethics and will inspire all of us as we work toward a more responsible and inclusive society.”
—Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, author of the international bestseller The Mountains Sing
“Erika Hayasaki has produced an elegant exploration of race and nationality. This intimate, meticulously reported portrait of an impoverished Vietnamese mother and her twin daughters, who were separated by adoption, is a not only a compelling story, but one that touches on profound questions of human identity.”
—Barbara Demick, author of Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town and Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
About Erika Hayasaki
Erika Hayasaki is a journalist based in Southern California. Her feature stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Atlantic, and various other publications. Formerly a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, she is also the author of “The Death Class: A True Story About Life” from Simon & Schuster. Her work has been supported by the Alicia Patterson Fellowship and the Knight Wallace Reporting Fellowship. Hayasaki teaches science, health, digital, and cultural narrative storytelling at the University of California, Irvine, where she is an associate professor in the Literary Journalism Program.
I would like to thank Algonquin Books for providing a digital copy of the book for the blog tour. All opinions are my own.