Awakening East – a book review

I’ve just completed the most incredible book that’s left me yearning to pack up my family and move overseas…

could scarcely put it down– a fun, fast read, beautifully penned

The premise is this: Along with her husband, the author adopts her children from China. Years later, they return as a family on a radical pilgrimage of sorts, with the aim of immersing the children in their birth culture for a year. 

Johanna Garton is a brilliant storyteller with seemingly endless volumes of inspiring life experience to draw from. Her prose exceeded my expectations, the sheer relatability made much of her chronicle almost deja-vu for me: I appreciated her adventure-seeking ambition, and her anecdotes from their time in China made me chuckle with fond recollection (see excerpt below).

One chapter detailing Gotcha Day instantly took me back. We had similar surprising it’s a boy wonder, and a near identical “aha!” moment in regards to the temperature of bottle our son preferred.

I recalled passively reading a similar account back when we were in process with our own adoption, before being matched to Little Man. Now, as mom to my sweet son, I delighted in Johanna’s rendition with new eyes– though I’d wager it’d be touching even to those who are not adoptive parents.

Johanna’s my hero, or new imaginary best friend: To so value her kids’ heritage as to pack up and move to their country of origin is telling of her character and wisdom. This adoptive mom takes her role seriously.

I positively howled at this hilarious interchange, paraphrased from her book, wherein she bops between English and Mandarin haggling with a vendor:

Author: “Hello, Sir, I would like to buy that sugar cane from you.”

Vendor: “Hello, foreign woman. How much would you like?”

A: “The whole thing.”

V: “But this is a large branch. How will you eat it?”

A: “We would like to use it as a Christmas tree.”

V: “A what?”

A: “A Christmas tree. It’s an American thing.”

Author’s Son: “Mom! This is totally embarrassing. Can we figure out something else?”

Author’s Daughter: “Momma, I want the bigger one!”

V: “Why are those Chinese children speaking English?”

A: “They are my children.”

V: “What?? But they are Chinese. Hey, everybody! Look at this foreign woman with these Chinese children! She says they speak English!”

Crowd closes in…

Son: “Mom, we don’t need a tree. Santa can put the presents on the table.”

A: “Zip it, buddy. We’re getting a darn tree.”

Daughter: “Can we make the biggest tree EVER, Momma?”

V: “OKay, I will sell you this sugar cane, foreign woman, but it will be expensive.”

A: “How much? “

V: “Thirty yuan.” (Equivalent of approx. $5.)

A: “What! Too much! How about twenty-five yuan?”

V: “Okay, Deal.”

A: “Can you cut a few pieces off so we can make branches?”

V: “I don’t understand, but okay, foreign woman.”

Passerby: “Hey you. Chinese boy! Do you speak English?”

Son: “Yes, I’m from China and was adopted as a baby. This is my mother. I speak English and Chinese.”

(He rattled off the answers that he could say in his sleep because they’d been asked so much of him.)

Passerby: “Is that your sister? She is fat.”

Son: “Yes. She eats a lot.”

Vendor: “Here you go, foreign woman. How will you carry this home?”

Author: “I am strong. I can carry it.”

V: “Where is your husband? He should carry it.”

A: “He’s at home cooking dinner.”

V: “Hey everybody! The foreign woman says her husband is home cooking dinner!”

Crowd burst into laughter.

Son: “Mom. I’m soooo embarrassed. Let’s get out of here.”

Daughter: “Momma, that is the best tree EVER!

My own family was only in country for a month when we adopted Little Man, but from what we gleaned during our time there… this is quintessentially China, in a nutshell.

Do yourself a favor and click the link on the photo below to procure your own copy of the heart-warming read, Awakening East: Moving our Adopted Children Back to China.