In this compelling and cogently argued book, Mark C. Jeng charts the history of transracial adoption from the 1820s to the present by exploring the interface of law, literature, and social discourses in Native American, African American, and Asian American contexts. As Jeng sets out to argue, "transracial adoption reveals specific crises in the reproduction and naturalization of norms of personhood at the conjunction of familial, national, and racial logics" (x-xi). These logics, he shows, operate both at a metaphoric/symbolic level in which nation and race are associated with family, and at the institutional and structural level whereby the state regulates the parent-child bond in order to reproduce an ideology of national homogeneity (xi). Jeng traces our modern understanding of adoption to the 1851 Massachusetts statute that, by severing all legal ties between a child and its biological parents, displaced the centrality of birth to self-identity. Situated at the crossroads of multiple, never fully-possessed histories, transracial adoptees have to negotiate a spectrum of norms pertaining to the legal-territorial, liberal-political, psychological, and human rights frameworks of personhood that define what Jeng calls "the familial nation-form" (xiii).
The adoption narratives and fictions scrutinized by the author illustrate his more general but nevertheless sharp insights, drawn mainly from psychoanalysis, into the shifting meanings of the parent-child [End Page 804] bond and, implicitly, into the uncertain status and condition of adoptees. He thus finds Freud's ideas of identification, transference, and projection, as highlighted in his essay "Family Romance," useful for understanding the condition of dislocation that adoption often entails and that is thematized in many search and reunion narratives. According to Freud, all children entertain an adoption fantasy that speaks to their desire to be liberated from parental authority. But, Jeng points out, the work on object-relations and relational psychoanalysis done by Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott, respectively, complicates this vision of a free-standing individual that has driven the institutional development of adoption, alerting us to the impossibility of producing a coherent identity around the dislocations attendant on adoption. Hence Jeng's attempt to show how transracial adoption challenges self/other boundaries, as well as "ready-made legal and social categories of race" that fail to consider "the affective bonds that mark its presence" (xxxiii).
The primacy of early affective bonds and consanguinity underlies the logic of identity in the texts of the 1820s discussed by Jeng in the first chapter. His insightful readings of historical romances—Lydia Maria Child's short-story "Willie Wharton," James Fenimore Cooper's The Wept of Wish-Ton Wish, and Catherine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie—and unredeemed captivity narratives (by John Dunn Hunter, Mary Jemison, and John Tanner) emphasize the cultural and national anxieties raised by unredeemed captives. As Jeng contends, these writers redraw the political and psychic boundaries between Native Americans and white settlers in terms of a sentimental construction of kinship that negates Native American practices of adoption based on substitution, whereby adoptees become real kin. Echoing the language of the 1831 Marshall trials that casts Native Americans as "domestic dependents" (8), these narratives foreground a notion of adoption that treats adoptees "as if" they were kin (7), thus securing the national-familial form of intergenerational personhood.
The second chapter focuses on the conflicting ways in which citizenship and freedom were articulated in narratives of adoption during the postbellum period. Looking at Frederick Douglass's second autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and two of Child's short stories as well as her novel A Romance of the Republic, Jeng shows that citizenship was regulated through kinship practices and domestic relations that were part of "an economy of maintaining patriarchy and racial divisions" (50). In all of these texts, the figure of the adopted child "both underlies and unsettles" (77) their authors' vision of the newly emancipated subject, whose personhood hinges on "the capacity to claim others and to be claimed" (66). Family therefore constitutes a paradoxical [End Page 805] site...