Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption – book Review

“Oh, damn it!” I grunt, to no one in particular, as my immaculately crafted egg-over-medium, sandwiched in between two crispy buttered halves of English muffins, squirts onto page 187 of Susan Devan Harness’ memoir Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption. With the dripping egg sandwich in one hand and the memoir in the other I survey the damage. “Shit, that’s not going to clean up easy,” I mutter to myself as I figure out how to put down the sandwich in one hand without letting the book’s pages fold onto each other. Folding would trap the bright yellow viscous yoke, as an egg-over-medium should be, in between multiple pages, sealing the damage. I search for paper towels in my new apartment and find only old napkins from late night guilty pleasure fast food runs on top of the fridge in a wicker basket. I use two to soak up and then wipe away any residue that may remain and threaten to seal the wisdom in these pages together, out of my desperate reach.

I ordered Bitterroot two months ago when I began searching for transracial adoptee stories in an effort to force myself to refocus on adoption related writing hoping that focus would inspire me to restart the searching process for biological relatives. Since picking up the memoir and finishing it a few weeks later I have successfully started writing multiple times a week again, begun practicing Tamil daily, resumed some regularly cooking of Indian cuisine and dove headlong into searching for my first family.

Bitterroot took me by surprise in the way Susan bears her soul to readers and navigates the triple-life most, especially transracial, adoptees experience when living in a culture separate from their heritage. Susan had to do so in an openly hostile home environment towards Native Americans even when her parents were able to show her love, they, or atleast her father, did so while denigrating Native Americans he’d come into contact with. She writes with a depth and ability to tie together dozens of life changing moments into a narrative that is filled with conflict, contradiction and humanity. I found Bitterroot right when I needed it. The retelling of her experience growing up, marrying, having kids, losing parents and losing more parents, while managing to come into a complicated reunion with much of her first family, has given me jolt of energy to drive through the fear induced fog that has set upon me over the past two years. 

Bitterroot is filled with a thousand little brillances that are tucked into seemingly mundane anecdotes about her adolescence and journey into adulthood. Susan’s writing style is open, inviting, but also clear of purpose, establishing a narrative to a life that’s been pulled in many directions, molded by rejections but defined by persistence. I deeply appreciate Susan’s ability to reflect on her life in a way that shows the growth and pain she has been through, to show the reader, but also then unpack those experiences with us, providing a lens of growth to the narrative that is often missing, I feel.

I give Bitterroot my highest rating. It is as perfect in its execution as an expertly crafted egg-over-medium. Something to savor, a treat to celebrate and one that leaves me thinking about it long after it’s finished. I strung out finishing the memoir over weeks in order to keep it as my “dessert” reading. A treat after a long day, or a motivator to get out of bed on those cold, dark January mornings in the midwest. 

Feeling very grateful to Susan for sharing her life with us and giving us the opportunity to learn from her.

2 thoughts on “Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption – book Review

  1. Wow Susan! You don’t know how much it means that you read and consider the review thoughtful. Your writing has had a huge impact on me and I’m so happy that I came across your writing. I continue to hold your words close as I endeavor on this search. Thank you.

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