“Everybody’s Son probes directly into the tender spots of race and privilege in America…With assured prose and deep insight into the human heart, Umrigar explores the moral gray zone of what parents, no matter their race, will do for love.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Sometimes you tend to wonder about the significance and relevance of the title of a book vis a vis the story, even after reading the whole book. In this case, the two fit perfectly.
David Coleman is a respected judge, with a famous family name and history going back two hundred years. He has connections, is white and rich. He is also a father still reeling from the tragic death of his only child. When he decides to become a foster parent along with his wife Delores, he is determined to make a difference.
Anton is a 9 yo African American child who is rescued after a week of being locked in an apartment that has been rendered a furnace by a heatwave. His mother went out to score a drug hit and didn’t return.
When Anton is put into foster care, he believes his mother will come and get him soon. He trusts her love for him and is sure they will be reunited soon. When David takes Anton home as his foster parent, he sees a tremendous potential in the child, given the right opportunities. He is horrified at the thought of sending him back to the bleak life that awaits him with his biological mother.
Telling himself he is doing the right thing and justifying his decision with the use of statistics, he puts into motion a series of events that result in a whole lot of questions about racism, stereotyping, misuse of privilege and the concept of the ends justifying the means.
Anton gets to live a life he could never have dreamt of, getting the best education, skiing holidays, trips abroad and two parents who love him unconditionally. Groomed for public life from a young age, he carries on the tradition of the Coleman family.
But the child that wanted to be reunited with his mother, who hoped he was more important than her addiction, who has always felt he had to live this life without being given a choice, remains within him. Thoughts about whether the colour of his skin really doesn’t matter or whether that’s because of his adopted last name haunt him, unsettling him.
And then the past comes knocking and he realizes that nothing is ever as it seems and he has to decide whether the life he has lived is worth the sacrifice taken involuntarily from the person he loved more than anyone else.
The story throws light upon a less subtle form of racism in terms of judgements imposed on a community without considering the individual. Should a consideration of the most likely scenarios based on the race of an individual take precedence over what that particular person is likely to do? Can good intentions ever justify injustice?
I found the writing very compelling, especially as most of the story is told from the POV of Anton as he fulfills the role of the abandoned child who is thrust into a world of privilege and then grapples with the meaning of everything he learns about his world. With the feeling of being everybody’s child but not knowing who he wants to be.
My first read by this author and I definitely want to read her other books.
Added 20th June 2020