Dear Djeneba

Family WantedDear Djeneba is a personal essay about my experience adopting my daughter. It was included in Family Wanted: True Stories of Adoption, an anthology published by Granta Books in 2005 and Random House in 2006. The story takes place in Mali, where my daughter was born and where we first came together as mother and child. As we await the adoption papers, my tiny daughter falls ill and nearly dies of malnutrition complicated by a virus. My struggle to save her life and bring her home to France is mirrored by my inner struggle to come to grips with sudden motherhood and the meaning of love.

Among the other contributors to Family Wanted are Tama Janowitz, Daniel Menaker, A.M. Homes and Bernard Cornwell. The collection, edited by Sara Holloway of Granta Books, includes essays from three points of view: being adopted, becoming adoptive parents, giving up a child for adoption.

To purchase Family Wanted, click here.

Praise for Family Wanted

‘A gripping and beautifully written collection.’
— The Guardian

‘A very significant addition to the canon of literature on the subject . . . While connected thematically, these stories are a celebration of the range and diversity of the human condition.’
— The Irish Times

‘A frequently startling and consistently moving collection . . . blood alone is not the motor of the family story, but love, guilt and pain will continue to be.’
— The Daily Telegraph

Excerpt from Dear Djeneba

Djeneba, it’s been four years now since we left Mali. All the anxiety and turmoil of our initial meeting seems far behind us. We’ve settled into our Parisian life. You’ve grown strong and tall and are more beautiful every day. Four years into our adventure together, life with you is endlessly fascinating.

In the nature-nurture debate, you seem to be living proof that a child’s environment is at least as important a factor in development as what nature has provided. You resemble me in ways I find absolutely uncanny. I’m thinking in particular of your strong personality, and I’m afraid to say you’ve picked up the bad with the good. You can be stubborn and willful and brash. You have a sharp tongue. But you can also be heart-meltingly endearing, like the day you blew kisses to everybody on the bus. Like the way you run to hug a child who gets hurt. Like the way, in the dark, you repeat your bedtime stories to your teddy bear.

I’m so interested to see how you’ll develop as you grow older, what paths you’ll take, who you’ll turn out to be.

If my life had followed the traditional path, we might not have found each other. I wake up in the morning — or, I should say, am awakened, like today — with you jumping onto my bed, clambering over me and giving me a dimpled smile, then a big kiss. ‘Come on, Mama,’ you demand, tugging at the covers. ‘Get up and make my breakfast.’ That smile and that kiss are worth everything to me.