Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Finding Fernanda

The Christian Science Monitor reviews Erin Seigal's book, Finding Fernanda, about Guatemalan adoption corruption:
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.


veggiemom said...

This is a fantastically-written book that anyone involved in adoption should read. It really shows just how easy it is for things to become very unethical.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to add this to my reading list!

Jacob Wheeler said...

For more about Guatemalan adoption, and both its beauty and controversial underbelly, please check out my book, “Between Light and Shadow: A Guatemalan Girl’s Journey through Adoption” (,674763.aspx):

In Between Light and Shadow veteran journalist Jacob Wheeler puts a human face on the Guatemalan adoption industry, which has exploited, embraced, and sincerely sought to improve the lives of the Central American nation’s poorest children. Fourteen-year-old Ellie, abandoned at age seven and adopted by a middle-class family from Michigan, is at the center of this story. Wheeler re-creates the painful circumstances of Ellie’s abandonment, her adoption and Americanization, her search for her birth mother, and her joyous and haunting return to Guatemala, where she finds her teenage brothers—unleashing a bond that transcends language and national borders.

Following Ellie’s journey, Wheeler peels back the layers of an adoption economy that some view as an unscrupulous baby-selling industry that manipulates impoverished indigenous Guatemalan women, and others herald as the only chance for poor children to have a better life. Through Ellie, Wheeler allows us to see what all this means in personal and practical terms—and to understand how well-intentioned and sometimes humanitarian first-world wealth can collide with the extreme poverty, despair, misogyny, racism, and violent history of Guatemala.