This well-researched examination of international adoption captures a world of inexplicable actions – some based on religious faith and others purely criminal – through thoughtful detail and an engaging narrative. Siegal began this work as a master’s project for her graduate degree in journalism, working with documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, leaked e-mails, and sources in the US and Guatemalan governments. “Finding Fernanda” – released just in time for National Adoption Month and which Siegal has published at her own expense – reads like a mystery novel, but the facts it reveals are hauntingly true.
In 2006, Mildred Alvarado was a struggling single mother living outside Guatemala City, one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the Western Hemisphere. Betsy Emanuel was a devout Christian living in rural Tennessee with a house full of kids between the ages of 1 and 19 years old, a loving husband, and a pony in the backyard. Siegal frames her investigation into Guatemalan adoption around the palpable love both Alvarado and Emanuel have for their children and their faith in God. Despite their myriad differences, Alvarado and Emanuel share an ability to see the very best in people: a characteristic that made them vulnerable to deceit – but eventually also served to bring them together in search of a young child they both claimed as their own.
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Siegal weaves the history of Guatemala and international adoption into her narrative, explaining how a system as seemingly altruistic as adoption could tumble into such criminality and corruption. US families began adopting from Guatemala in the 1980s, at the height of a violent civil war that left many children orphaned. Adoption proved a great source of revenue for the economically deflated country and – unfortunately – Guatemalan children became commodities.
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