A journey of discovery
When an adopted Eritrean orphan returns to her homeland her experiences are remarkably similar to those of a PCV arriving in-country for the first time
My Fathers’ Daughter
A Story of Family and Belonging
by Hannah Pool
Free Press, Simon & Schuster 2005
Reviewed by Mary Schultz (Asmara 65-67)
HANNAH POOL WAS BORN IN ERITREA was born in Eritrea in 1974. She was adopted after her mother died in childbirth. She grew up in Manchester, England, believing she was an orphan. As a young adult she discovers that her father and her family live in Eritrea, and she decides to visit them.
My Fathers’ Daughter is the story of Hannah’s visit to Eritrea, of meeting her family, and eventually visiting the village, and the house, in which she was born. She sees the bed where he mother died.
As she travels to Eritrea from England via Germany, she meets Eritreans who cannot understand that she does not speak Tigrinya, a soldier who cannot understand why she has a passport instead of an ID card.
Hannah is a journalist, and her writing is wonderful. I felt like a visitor to the villages as I saw her meet her family and their homes for the first time, understood her stomach ills from the food, heard her brother tell her that her father said her skirt was too short. I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the “rickety blue buses [ . . . of] ancient Italian stock,” because I rode on those buses in 1966.
Hannah is as amazed at some facts of life in Eritrea, as I was as a Peace Corps Volunteer. When she asks her brother how far it is to her sister’s house, he answers, “They have a good house and they have enough food.”
“Does he mean just enough?” she asks herself. “Surely if he meant more than enough then that’s what he’d say. . . . ‘Enough food’ is not a phrase I have ever used with regard to a person’s wealth or quality of life. . . . [I]t is a meaningless yardstick to me. People talk about not having ‘enough space,’ ‘enough money,’ ‘enough holidays,’ but never ‘enough food.’ ”
The plural use of “fathers” in the title refers to her two fathers, her birth father and her adoptive father. Her adoptive father raised her, as her adoptive mother died when she was a young child. He birth father has much influence on how she sees her birth country and village, and how she interacts with her other newly found family members.
This is a short autobiography of 277 small pages. The book is of interest not only to those who have spent time in Eritrea, but also to adoptees and adoptive parents.