Book Review by Meredith Hicks: Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope (Bloomsbury)
David and Nathalie are the children of Lynne and Ralph Dexter. They also happen to be adopted and have different birth mothers, but grew up as siblings. Now David and Nathalie are both in their 30s, with their own children, and sharing the urge to find out who their birth mothers are. Thus begins a painful process for themselves and their partners, their adoptive parents and particularly for the birth mothers, who have led completely different lives all these years.
Most people know their past, know where they come from and who their parents are. But what about the children who have been adopted? Is there always a certain emptiness in them where the certainty of parental love should have its place? Joanna Trollope tries to give answers to these questions through her two main characters, who have always known that Lynne and Ralph are not their biological parents. Nevertheless, they manage to live with this knowledge until they have their own kids.
It’s only when Nathalie’s daughter has to be operated on for possible hearing loss that their view of the world and their lives, which has been built up by repression for years, brings about a collapse and she finally wants to know where she came from.
Despite her request, her brother initially refuses to look for his mother, but the return of the past instils rage and humiliation about his not being wanted as a baby by his birth mother. This development changes him so much that he can no longer turn to his wife and his three children as a husband and father.
This is not only an incredibly emotional odyssey for Nathalie and David, but also for their families and the birth mothers, who have lived their own lives with many ups and downs. The protagonists come across as believable characters with all their strengths and weaknesses. Trollope’s gift for writing about the human experience, and people’s personal triumphs and struggles, allows the reader to get into the mind of each character as they each deal with their joys, insecurities, and inner pain.
The lovingly written, finely detailed characters, combined with the fact that adoption is a topic not often written about in fiction, makes Brother and Sister a fascinating and moving book to read and enjoy.