Belinda’s Book Nook Review: The Orphan Keeper by Camran Wright

Title: The Orphan Keeper
Author: Camran Wright
Copyright: September 6, 2016
Genre: historical fiction
Format: book Pages: 432

Why did I pick this book up in the first place? I can’t remember where I saw a write up about this book but I think it was Book riot’s book blog. But when I saw this book in its physical form in the library, I saw a “chunker” and I had a moment of big book fear cross my path. I read a good share of books about or set in India in the past but thought I was due for another.  As part of my reading experience, I want to continue to read more books in that this region and around the world.

A few quotes that I liked from the book:

“Be honest, good son, be kind. You must, if he ever hope to see the end of your suffering and attain moksha. Moksha , a state of liberation where one could finally be free from the struggles of life and the cycle of reincarnation. ”

“Resentment, pity, shame … all were growing in the cracks of my soul like mold.” – The landowner (Mrs. Iyer) – what a great use of words to describe his mother’s feeling after losing her child to elements and becoming barren.

“it took me the entire day watching the sun part across the sky, but Lord Shiva helped me understand that my only journey of concern was to be like the sun, to make it through the day offering as much light and warmth and consistency for others as I could one single day. Each day. That was all.”
– the landowner (Mrs. Iyer)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Based on a remarkable true story.
Seven-year-old Chellamuthu’s life is forever changed when he is kidnapped from his village in India, sold to a Christian orphanage, and then adopted by an unsuspecting couple in the United States. It takes months before the boy can speak enough English to tell his parents that he already has a family back in India. Horrified, they try their best to track down his Indian family, but all avenues lead to dead ends.

Meanwhile, they simply love him, change his name to Taj, enroll him in school, make him part of their family—and his story might have ended there had it not been for the pestering questions in his head: Who am I? Why was I taken? How do I get home?

More than a decade later, Taj meets Priya, a girl from southern India with surprising ties to his past. Is she the key to unveil the secrets of his childhood or is it too late? And if he does make it back to India, how will he find his family with so few clues?

From the best-selling author of The Rent Collector, this is a deeply moving and gripping journey of discovering one’s self and the unbreakable family bonds that connect us forever.

My Thoughts:

I don’t want to spoil any of the story, so I won’t tell of his adoption process. But instead, jump to his experience in America. At one point, his adoptive mother suggests changing his name to something easier to pronounce to avoid teasing so he is renamed Taj.  I had mixed feelings about this and the practice in general. It seems like many foreigners are forced to accommodate the lack of effort and exposure of the general American population to foreign names by changing their given name. This sort of “kid glove” approach only further assists in detaching people from their homeland and past. I admit, I am notorious for butchering many foreign names but I would like the opportunity to learn the proper pronunciations so that I can improve my literary, social, and international experiences. Why make it easy for us at the expense of a person losing a piece of themselves? After all, parents take the time to come up with a name for their child that often has special meaning. So why should I take that from both mother and child to make life more “convenient”?  I feel like we can’t grow with such handicaps.

A surprising revelation while reading this book, was how much this book made me reflect on my own experiences here in the United States. I am not an orphan, I am not Indian, and I was not adopted from another country; however, I noticed similarities with some of the experiences this character had in this book. I found myself sharing many of the feelings and experiences of Taj in this book. So it made the experience for me much deeper. It was no longer just a story about this particular boy and the conditions in India. It talked about the experience of being different, trying to find a way to fit in. All of these kinds of things were explored in this book.

An example of some of the social challenges is when, as a teen, Taj participates in a foreign exchange program and goes to London. When he meets his host family in London for the first time I felt so connected with him and sorry for him by the host family’s initial reaction when he first spoke. They asked him how his trip was to London. And after he said his trip was long. The father of the family says, “it’s true, then …You look Indian but sound American. ” Although the father may not have meant any harm in that statement it shows the narrowness of their thoughts. When I was growing up, I lived in a predominately white town and there were only a few minorities in the school. So when I went to college and I had the opportunity to be around so many diverse groups and spend time with African-American students they would always ask me “What are you? You talk like a white girl.” I was taken aback by the statement because I am black and this is how I talk. I didn’t think there was just one way to talk or look or act for that matter. In this book, Taj has no “typical” characteristics of an Indian person because he was raised by a white family in a culturally white American household in a predominantly white town so his Indian heritage, those cultural characteristics were lost.

While reading this book, I felt that I not only was learning more about the plight of the very poor in India but specifically a possible fate for some of the poor children. The possibilities of being kidnapped and sold into adoption systems. Things like that are alarming and I think that the book is a good story for people that are curious about some things that are taking place right now and want to provide help. I also think this book is good for people of color to find common grounds with other people of color through similar social experiences within the American context. I think this is also a great book for children that may have a similar situation is as Taj, the main character, that wants to find their family and to encourage them to never give up that pursuit.

So there are so many ways this book is helpful to so many as well as being a great story. I feel like the author did a great job providing depth of character and a good amount of details.

My rating:

I believe I have to give this book a five stars for many reasons that I’ve already stated but I’m a big chicken when it comes to big books I tend to look at them and try to get to them later but when I saw this one on the library shelf, I said well what do I have to lose? I picked it up and I kid you not it was such a fast read that I really can’t even believe that it was a big book. It’s written so well and very accessible to everyone. It’s not one of those books where you’re sitting there and you’re so depressed reading it and you’re in tears and you just feel hopeless it’s quite the opposite it’s filled with hope and some humor at times. It’s definitely a book that can inspire us all. It’s not a book filled with a bunch of dry facts. But there is enough information in there to start the wheels turning and the curiosity to learn more about the country and the plight of the people particularly the children. I don’t like to give five butterflies very often but I feel like this book really just moved me in such a way that I cannot give it less than five butterflies.

Happy reading!

Belinda

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