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An Interview with Barbara D'Amato
Author of "White Male Infant

Book ReviewBarbara D'Amato is a prolific and well known mystery writer whose best selling books have won numerous awards. She is perhaps best known for her mystery series starring Cat Marsala. White Male Infant is a thriller set in the stage of an ill fated, international adoption from Russia, in which the adoptive parents discover that all is not as it seems.

Interview By Allison Martin

Why did you choose to write about adoption? Do you have a personal experience with adoption?

One of my best friends was adopted. In those days they didn't tell adoptees who their birthparents were and she has always wanted to find them.

More recently my husband, a professor at Northwestern Law School, became involved in divided family cases. This is where the parents are of two nationalities and one parent goes back to another country leaving the other parent with great difficulty in getting the children back. He became interested in making international adoption easier but with more validation and protection for everyone. He would like to see an international clearing body, perhaps supervised by religious organizations, so that adoption of orphaned children could be quicker and easier. There are maybe 500,000 orphans in care in Russia and maybe 100,000 or more in China, mostly girls. It would be so nice for these children to be adopted. Many are going to die due to lack of care or lack of food and most will be damaged due to orphanage experience. Countries resent letting the world know they have an orphanage system. There is no international system for dealing with it.

What would you like people to learn from White Male Infant?

One of my big hopes with the book is that people who read it would take a good look at the possibility of unethical adoption agencies. Of course my main hope is that people would realize how many babies around the world will have no family and in many cases no life unless we do something.

In your book you present a flawed adoption system, could you explain this?

In this country because we have many states with many different laws the regulations are all over the place. For instance, in terms of adopting a new born child, in one state a birth mother can change her mind in only 24 hours and in some states it is a month or two months,or even a year. A day is too soon, the mother is too weak and too emotional to make the decision, but a year is too long; by that time the baby has bonded.

We need a system to vet adoption agencies. It isn't national or compulsory. There are good agencies and bad agencies. The good agencies belong to organizations that validate them. While there are a lot of good agencies, some are very bad and some are money hungry.

The different INS offices around the country vary a lot in how fast they process papers and how efficient they are to get the papers through. It can take days in one office and a couple of years in another office. There is no reason for that. Someone needs to get a streamlined process going.

The FBI plays a priority role in your book, could you comment on that?

Most laws regulating adoption are state laws, not national laws, therefore the FBI rarely is involved. They should at least be alert to crimes between one state and another, but I don't think its a priority for them now.

How did you research your book?

I know some FBI agents and I have several friends who are Chicago police officers. I talked to a number of parents who adopted from abroad. I did not talk with the INS; they don't like to talk much about this... You would be amazed at the difference from one INS office and another.

I used the Internet to do a lot of research about countries and their policy. I think the Internet is wonderful. Of course, a lot of things you can not find out unless you go there or have a friend that has been there and has first hand experience.

I looked at a lot of international adoption sites. Internet websites vary a good deal, especially what they tell about themselves. The parent who wants to adopt will find a range. Some seem to be very ethical and others seem to be quite blatant in the way they format their site and present themselves and their children. There is a lot of room for "ripping off" the system. It can be a great benefit for women looking for adopting parents and for parents look for children. Unfortunately the Internet is too wide, so there is a lot of scope for fraud. People who use the Net should be prepared to do some additional validating before they go ahead.

What observations do you have on adoption having completed your book?

I would like people to realize how many orphan babies there are around the world. Around 4,000 children are adopted from China a year, mostly Chinese girls, and around 4,000 children are adopted from from Russia. Babies are dying all over the world for lack of adoptive parents, who don't know how to go about finding them.

In terms of the plot of the book, I had a couple, the adoptive parents, who are suddenly faced with the knowledge that the baby they adopted from a Russian orphanage may not have been an orphan at all. Do they have a moral obligation to return the child and find the birth parents? I think that a lot of people could examine how they feel about adoption. What would they do in a situation like that? Most of us would never face anything so extreme. I have people say that decision that they made in the book was wrong [the adoptive father seeks out the birthmother to return their child], and others say it was right.

What did you choose to tell a story where the adoptee was kidnapped? It seems very unlikely..

As the prices go up for certain types of babies, it becomes more and more a lucrative business. While some people do not care if there is money involved, sooner or later someone is going to get involved who does. The amount of money that you read about -- some agencies are supposedly making 50% of their investment back in a year! If agencies can keep their costs down and locate the type of baby that people want to adopt then it cost $35,000 in fees. This is medical fees, etc. For certain "specialty babies" it can go well over that.

So you are saying that this financial situation can provide an incentive for unethical adoptions?


Why do mystery writers so often focus on adoption?

The reasons vary. Often it can be an inheritance question. Adoption stories show up even more in soap operas. The story has to do with the primal quest of who are my parents and where are my parents. Oftentimes it is the view point of the adopted child. Sometimes they find out things they don't want to and this can be a mystery too.

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