A few weeks ago, I contacted one of the leading minds in the field of transracial adoption, Dr. John Raible and sent him a copy of my book. To my surprise he quickly read my book and took the time to write a review. Below is his very comprehensive review.
For those who have read the book I would be interested to get your thoughts and input. For those who have not yet the book, do you feel your wants and needs have been accurately portrayed? In my quest to learn more and provide the adoption community with my assistance I would be interested to hear how I can further grow and provide the help needed.
DR. JOHN RAIBLE’S REVIEW
Parents looking for an accessible, easy to read memoir written by an
outwardly happy transracial adoptee will heave sighs of relief when
they get to the last page of Kevin Hofmann’s entertaining memoir. Some
readers will appreciate being left with a message that rhapsodizes
over multiracial families and Obama’s election, signaling for the
author the ways our society has advanced since the turbulent days of
racial strife during the 1960s.
As an educator who works with families formed through transracial
adoption, I am always on the lookout for new resources that will help
parents to appreciate the depth and severity of race and adoption
issues. The best first-person narratives, in my opinion, are those by
adoptees who have lived the experience AND who are healed and mature
enough as individuals to be trusted to reflect on their experience
from a place of honesty, intelligence, and introspection. These
adoptee narratives are most helpful when the authors are able to move
back and forth between their lived experience and the larger social
and psychological issues presented by race and adoption, helping make
connections for the reader between perspectives common, say, in the
African American community, among the white adoption community, among
adoptees both transracial and same race, and so on. Just because one
happens to be a transracial adoptee does not make one an expert in
race or adoption.
In other words, I seek educational resources that are multi-layered
and nuanced, and that come at race and adoption from multiple angles.
To be able to do all that, the authors must be gifted and
knowledgeable writers who have given much thought to their own
experience AND who have done their homework, i.e., read other memoirs
and become familiar with available resources, including the research
literature and films on transracial adoption already in existence.
Hofmann’s memoir is a valiant first attempt to put some of these
pieces together, but it will become clear to readers that he still has
much to learn, about adoption, about race, and about their
intersections. Perhaps it is unfair of me to apply this standard to
Hofmann’s book. It is his personal memoir, after all, and not a how-to
manual on transracial parenting.
What I like about his book is his skill at providing vivid pictures to
convey incidents from his childhood and adolescence. Interspersed with
these graphically written and sometimes amusing scenes are snippets of
ugly racial incidents, occurring both inside and outside the family
home. For example, Hofmann discloses how his white adoptive brothers
would resort to using the N-word when sibling rivalry reared its head.
Even in college, the author and his brother came to blows during the
heat of an argument, after his brother started to call him a “nigger.”
Yet, apparently, such insensitivity rolled off the author’s back like
water. In a reflective moment, Hofmann writes, “My racial maturity
also allows me to see less color more and more” (p. 77).
Another strength of the book is the positive message the author
dispenses about family loyalty, protecting each other, and the role of
his strong spiritual faith. At the same time, these very strengths
turn into liabilities when they are not examined critically. For
example, while it is laudable that his parents tried to shield their
children from the ugliness of racism, it is not necessarily helpful
for parents to avoid talking openly about racism when it happens to
different family members. Similarly, while spirituality can play an
important function in the lives of individuals facing enormous
challenges, clinging to a purely spiritual explanation for traumatic
life events and their aftermath can bolster denial and thwart genuine
recovery and healing.
In terms of transracial parenting advice, Hofmann provides very little
in the way of concrete suggestions. Rather, the author states, “If I
was given the chance to start over in life, I would choose to change…
NOTHING. The love that I have received from my parents is
overwhelming” (p. 166). Hofmann’s loyalty to his adoptive parents
comes through loud and clear. His memoir reads as a moving tribute to
them, as a paean to the sacrifices they made as parents, and less as
an insightful account of his inner struggles as a transracial adoptee.
The indebted son writes, “Hearing story after story of how unjustly
our family was treated again humbles me. In my head I wonder if their
extreme decision to adopt me was too costly… I am grateful but I am
not sure if I am worth the high price they paid” (p. 100). Readers
looking for actual advice may wonder what perhaps more critical
perceptions and insights the author chose to omit in order to maintain
the façade of filial loyalty and devotion.
Adopted by a minister’s family in the late 1960s, the author makes
clear the primacy of his family’s faith in making sense of his
adoption epic: “On that November afternoon, God places me in the arms
of the family that he chooses just for me. Getting others to agree on
God’s placement would also be insurmountable” (p. 12). In so saying,
the memoir pits Hofmann and God against the callous bigots. It goes on
to relate numerous disturbing anecdotes about the high price Hofmann’s
parents paid for their decision to adopt a biracial child, including
loss of employment opportunities and facing racial prejudice among
members of the pastor’s congregation.
Placing religion front and center in its analysis of transracial
adoption, the book’s opening chapter declares, “It is my belief that
each adoptee is divinely matched and placed with their adoptive family
[sic]. As my parents continued to tell me the story of how I arrived
in their care, this belief is confirmed” (p. 6). For the author, it
must be reassuring to know beyond question that fate, one’s parents,
and God all conspired to create what Hofmann repeatedly refers to as
his “extraordinary” life story and outcome. Yet superimposing his
adoptive parents’ narration of the transracial adoption experience
seems to silence his own voice as an adoptee, who ends up sounding as
if he is merely parroting the parental perspective instilled in him as
one lucky and “blessed” adopted child.
Every now and again, small gems appear that hint at what was missing
in the author’s transracial upbringing. But Hofmann does not pursue
them further to see where they might lead. Nor does he dare to suggest
what his parents might have done differently, which could be a boon to
today’s adoptive parents. Instead, Hofmann takes the safe route, which
is forgivable, given that adoptees who do write critically of their
experience often pay a high price for their candor, for example,
incurring the wrath of or even disownment by disgruntled family
members. For instance, in describing the differences he observed when
he was invited to dinner at a black schoolmate’s house, Hofmann quips,
“Faulting my parents for not going to school to learn how to cook like
a black woman from the south is not a thought that invades my head.
Yet what I lack culturally, although it is no one’s fault, does create
a small void in me” (p. 88). And without much further elaboration—and
without pointing any fingers—he writes, “The loss of culture is one of
the things I grieve as a result of being adopted” (p. 90).
Even so, Hofmann makes much of the fact that he feels he learned a lot
from his black peers while his adoptive family lived in a mostly
African American neighborhood—before they moved to a predominantly
white one. The message for parents contemplating where to live and
raise their transracial children is hardly supportive. By describing
several scary and dramatic moments, such as home break-ins and a
purse-snatching incident in their black neighborhood, Hofmann
undercuts the message from anti-racist adoption advocates that
encourage parents to move to more integrated neighborhoods, rather
than away from communities of color.
He paints a convincing portrait of the personal challenges of being
one of the few black students off at college, and of his emotional
struggles around interracial dating, which he decides poignantly is
simply too difficult. When he falls in love with a black woman who
later became his wife, we don’t hear reports on how he integrated his
wife and in-laws into his white adoptive family, or how he navigated
the cultural clashes that surely erupted between his upbringing and
the cultural expectations on his wife’s African American side of the
The closest we get to honest self-analysis of how the author navigates
race and adoption issues comes in the book’s final chapter, entitled
“Extraordinary Results.” Finally, Hofmann begins to explore his
feelings around being adopted, mostly by considering the impact of
adoption on his self-esteem. He describes happening upon a radio talk
show on adoption in the car one day, and how, at first, he dismissed
the on-air expert’s claim that adoptees struggle with rejection and
self-esteem. But the more he thought about it, Hofmann says, “I had to
wrestle with the idea that I may have those issues. To this point, I
liked the idea that I was basically unaffected by the adoption process
and came through this crazy experience with no issues or scars” (p.
It seems striking that calling adoption a “crazy experience” did not
lead to further introspection or explanation. That this admission
comes so late in the text—with only three and a half pages left until
the book’s end—leaves readers wanting more: a deeper analysis, say,
and more self-reflection, more connections to other adoptees’
experiences, and to what the research literature says about
transracial adoption. What made adoption seem so “crazy?” Why did
Hofmann insist on denying that adoption might have scarred him until
he was well into his forties? How does he think about that
possibility, now that he admits that he “might have issues”?
In terms of exploring his adoption issues further, Hofmann does offer
this insight: “The feeling of rejection manifested itself over and
over again. My mind told me I was not good enough so whenever
greatness was possible I quit… Being my own enemy, there is no way to
win. This has continued as I have tried several businesses that never
made it” (p. 162). This powerful admission is probably not what
Hofmann means by an “extraordinary result.” By the end of the memoir,
readers are left with a frustratingly incomplete portrait of a
middle-aged biracial man who professes gratitude for having been
placed, in his view, by God with a white adoptive family, and who,
although he endured some racism as a child and at college, is
nevertheless thankful for the experience.
Adoptive parents who have grown weary of the critical analysis and
insistent calls for adoption reform emanating from more political
adoptee voices will no doubt welcome this book as a breath of fresh
air. So will parents who resist the advice to move their transracial
families to integrated neighborhoods, schools, and houses of worship.
For readers such as these who remain in denial, the good news is that
there is no finger pointing or blaming, no whining, no accusations of
racism, no exposé of their privilege or their limitations as white
In the end, Hofmann’s memoir comfortably allows Pollyanna readers to
remain smug in their denial of difficult issues, and complacent in
their avoidance of white parental responsibilities when raising
children of color in a still-racist society. As a memoir, the book is
compelling, and at times entertaining. But as a roadmap of what NOT to
do, and how to be a more responsible transracial adoptive parent, this
book will leave readers in the dark. I came away deeply disappointed
that the author provided no real advice to parents about how to take
their responsibilities more personally and seriously.
Dr. John Raible