Cover

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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9

Acknowledgements

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pp. ix-xii

Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Prologue: October 2008

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pp. 1-7

This is not going well. The orphanage director folds his hands on the table before him; his back is so upright it doesn’t touch the chair. His face remains unsmiling, his eyes inscrutable behind sunglasses. He is not here, it turns out, because of his love of children. It is his poor eyesight that has doomed him to this position as director of the Chinese social welfare institute where my daughter once lived...

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Chapter One: Ten Days Earlier

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pp. 8-20

When we board a plane for China carrying that picture of the Man, I know it’s unlikely that we’ll unearth much information about my daughter’s past. In fact, by the time we finally hand our boarding passes over to the agent and head down the tunnel, I’ve almost forgotten why it seemed so important to go back to China, why I saved and prepared for this trip for years...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 21-40

When Sophie was about six, she first heard Iris DeMent’s agnostic anthem, “Let the Mystery Be” on an old tape I was playing in the car: “Everybody keeps wondering what and where they all came from. . .”
“Play that again,” Sophie said from the backseat, so I rewound and replayed.
“Again,” she said. It’s a playful, catchy song, but it surprised me that she kept wanting to hear what was essentially a philosophical examination of religious beliefs about human origins and the afterlife...

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Chapter Three: October 2008

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pp. 41-61

The day before we left for Beijing, Sophie paged through A Day in the Life of China, studying each photo. “He’s eight,” she said incredulously, pointing at a baby standing in a crib, gripping the railing. “This one is four,” she gasped, showing me a tightly swaddled newborn-looking creature...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 62-74

“I miss our house,” Sophie sometimes says while we are in China. “I don’t miss anything else. Just our house. I wish I could move it here and live here.”
I imagine our Victorian house, complete with squirrels and bats and mice, a wooden structure with cracked siding, lifted and dropped down here, dwarfed by the slick high-rises of Beijing, out of place among all the steel...

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Chapter Five: October 2008

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pp. 75-93

When I first came to China, to adopt Sophie, the trip was a bizarre juxtaposition of packaged tour and life-changing experience. Our group shivered in chilly winds through tedious lectures about emperors and dynasties at the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs. We trudged in the hot sun up the Great Wall and around a tea plantation. Even after we added heavy, fussy...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 94-108

The year before we went to China, high winds ripped a twenty-foot branch from a neighbor’s maple tree and flung it toward the kitchen window just as Sophie was climbing up on the sink to close that window. As the branch cracked like a gunshot and flew toward her, she leapt backward, hitting her head against the counter. The limb crashed to the ground, shattering into a...

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Chapter Seven: October 2008

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pp. 109-131

Our Xi’an guide, Ivy, meets us at the train station and then sets off at a brisk pace, empty-handed, without glancing back to make sure that we’re keeping up. We’re not. One of our duffle bags has a good metal handle and rolls easily. The other has turned out to be a mistake. With only a strap, the bag is impossible to maneuver up and down curbs and around cars, parked...

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Chapter Eight: October 2008

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pp. 132-153

“I have a problem,” I greet our Chengdu guide, Mr. Su. “I left all of my pants in Xi’an.”
This horrible revelation struck me on the plane only minutes ago.Yesterday, I sent two pairs of pants out to be washed, and, scrambling to get ready during an early morning after a late night, I didn’t notice that they had not been...

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Chapter Nine: October 2008

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pp. 154-167

When Sophie was little, I wasn’t the only one with the occasional impulse to run away. Once when she was six, Sophie announced gravely that it had come time for her to leave home. After lunch the next day, she said, she’d be setting off to live in the woods...

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Chapter Ten: October 2008

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pp. 168-183

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” I’ve recited often to Sophie, at her request. She’s been brought up on Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle as if it were a nursery rhyme, and for some reason, it appeals to her. Maybe because she loses everything. Her beloved stuffed dog, her library books, her favorite earrings, a key down the vent. But things always turn up, and so she likes the...

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Epilogue

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pp. 184-192

The morning after the orphanage visit, we walk along the tracks at the train station, searching for Platform 2.3, which sounds like something out of Harry Potter. We are continuing to retrace Sophie’s steps, moving through a compacted version of her first few months, though by now those steps are...

Note on Sources

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pp. 193-194

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 210-211