In Australia in 1971-72, there were 10,000 adoptions. In NSW in 1969, roughly 2,000 young women, most of them unmarried, gave up their children for adoption. Helen Armstrong, aged 17, fell pregnant that year and was persuaded to have her baby son Simon adopted out. This theme is closely based on Kathleen James’ own story. Helen still carries a buried grief. Birth mothers had no contact with their children, and only minimal initial information was ever provided. Years later when Helen is divorced and beginning a new phase of life, with a 19-year-old son Nick, she hopes for a reunion with Simon when he turns 21.
At this time Helen falls in love with single parent Marco Lucini, and the family secrets of both the Armstrongs and the Lucinis gradually come to light. Helen learns a lot about her beloved Uncle Mick (a gambler and a ‘ladies’ man,’) who together with her Auntie Vera ran the Armstrong’s Family Hotel in Katoomba back in the 1930s. Finding out about Mick’s all too human failings and his troubled past helps her to come to terms with her own. Marco also learns how complicated families can be, when he discovers a whole new family of ‘outlaws’ in Italy, (‘outlaws’ being those parenting or born outside of marriage).
The story takes us from a Sydney waterway to the NSW South Coast and Blue Mountains, and to Parma and Venice in Italy. The three narrators: Helen, Marco and Mick span two generations, in alternating chapters, giving the reader three different points of view.
In its extensive exploration of adoption this novel gives a voice to the many women who, under the influence of others, gave up their babies and feel silenced by a sense of loss and shame.
‘Kathleen James deals with the issues of adoption with grace, sensitivity and sincere compassion. This is a wonderful read and personally it touched me on so many levels…. To bring to others the dilemma that is adoption with such understanding is a huge achievement.’
Penelope Wise, representative of the Adoptive Parents Association (APA) on the NSW Standing Committee on Adoption from 1977 to 1990.