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White Male Infant
By Barbara D'Amato
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Review by Allison Martin

White Male Infant is a mystery thriller in the setting of an international adoption from Russia. Dooley McSweeney, a surgeon based in New York, and his wife, an attorney named Claudia, dearly love their little 4 year old adopted son. Their devotion is amply demonstrated in the heart touching hospital scenes when it appears that little Teddy may have cancer. However, in the aftermath of his recovery his father begins to wonder if their son could really be Russian. The test results show that he was previously exposed to an antibiotic not available there. Haunted by the idea that his son was kidnapped from another country, McSweeney drops everything to track down their son's birth mother and determine the truth of his origins. A second plot unfolds when an investigative TV reporter visits a Russian orphanage and her cameraman is viciously murdered. The FBI is also involved, as they are investigating an unusually expensive adoption agency which supplies infants to meet adoptive parents specifications. Eventually these pieces come together in the end in a manner that ends tragically for the adoptive parents.

Barbara D'Amato is skilled in her craft, and the book is a page turner until the very end. Occasionally far fetched (murder seldom enters a real life adoption story), the drama of the story is made more plausible by the setting and background details. The opening hospital scenes with little Teddy and the ill treatment of the "unwanted" handicapped children in the Russian orphanage are poignant and heartbreaking. It is hard not to read through the beginning of the book without feeling empathy for the adoptive family.

However, it is best not to be lulled into complacency in this gripping thriller. White Male Infant is not a positive or benign view of the adoption process. This adoption story conveys a world where child brokering is pushed to its extreme, with tragic consequences. The McSweeneys wish to adopt a young baby who meets very specific criteria, rather than adopting one of the many truly needy children who are waiting. The adoption agency is portrayed as focusing only on profits, either brainstorming on a cute but solid name for their agency or cold heartily laying out their expansion plans. In a bizarre twist, this agency kidnaps babies to meet specifications they elicit from prospective parents. As they search for evidence, the FBI pressures prospective adopters to spy on or testify against their agency, and examines bank accounts without a warrant. In the end even the McSweeneys seem to regard their son a commodity, an unfair representation of the real devotion of adoptive parents. While the McSweeneys make the correct moral decision when they find that their baby was originally kidnapped, their anguish (and their son's) is grossly underplayed when their family is disrupted. In sum, the perception of the adoption system as driven by personal greed undermines the legitimacy of the adoptive family.

In my interview with Barbara D'Amato, she explains her approach. "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."

If you are someone who believes that adoption can have a dark side, then you may not find its portrayal here too disturbing. Otherwise, you may find yourself dismayed as the plot evolves, as I did. However, White Male Infant does raise a number of issues which the adoption community needs to address when considering the way adoption is regarded. The appearance of a baby market, the potential for corruption, the rights of birthparents, the pressure of the "perfect match", and the suffering of the less adoptable children left behind - are all important considerations for anyone who cares about the morality of adoption. White Male Infant is a gripping thriller, but an unsettling view of international adoption.

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