At the height of the dry season in Zimbabwe, an infant lies abandoned in tall grass. She fights to live as ants swarm her body, eating her umbilical cord and covering her in dust. Finally someone hears her cries and she is recovered. She joins the ranks of orphaned and abandoned children who fill Zimbabwe’s packed and dilapidated children’s homes. Her struggle to survive continues. 

In an unlikely set of circumstances, the author, a foreign corespondent based in Harare with his wife, crossed paths with this baby shortly after her placement at Chinyaradzo Children’s Home. It was love at first sight. Chipo, whose name means ‘gift’ in Shona, was one sick little girl. Her weight dropped precipitously, she developed pneumonia, and her breath came in ragged bursts. Despite the long odds, the Tuckers set out to nurse her back to health, with the intent to adopt.

Orphanage matron Stella Mesikano and two orphans at Chinyaradzo

Adoption by non-family members is a very rare occurrence in Zimbabwe, and foreign adoptions are unheard of. When the Tuckers (a biracial American couple) announced to the Department of Social Welfare that they were interested in adopting Chipo, it was as if they had set off a bomb. Moreover, their timing could not have been worse, since their application occurred as President Mugabe issued a crackdown against journalists both foreign and native. I won’t go into more detail here, just be prepared to read about a truly horrendous bureaucratic nightmare.

The bulk of this book is a page turner. I raced through it in two days, sucked into the drama of the Tucker’s lives. While it’s not difficult to figure out that the adoption was eventually successful (there’s a lovely black and white photo of the family in the front of the book) it certainly reads as a race against time. The adoption had to be completed within a specific period, as Zimbabwe collapsed and Tucker’s bureau closed, sending correspondents elsewhere. 

The Tucker family: Stella, Chipo, and Neely

The sections of the book that I didn’t enjoy as much focused on the author’s family background, coming of age, and relationship with race. The writing wasn’t boring, but I found my mind wandering back to Zimbabwe and Chipo’s fate.

Overall, this is quite an excellent book, and there are some stories thrown in from Tucker’s forays into the field (Larent Kabila’s Congo, the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings, etc.) that will satisfy any adrenaline junky. I would not recommend the audio version, as it is abridged. 

*all pictures are from the author’s website: neelytucker.com

**Another great book that touches on foreign adoption, along with many other important issues: There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene (Ethiopia)  

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