In this edition of Knyzka Corner, we will be discussing Maurice Mierau’s award-winning memoir, Detachment: An Adoption Memoir.
Readers first meet an emotionally drained Maurice in 2009 in a psychologist’s office in Winnipeg. For three years, his wife Betsy has been urging him to get help. He tells the psychologist, “I have problems in my marriage, marital problems I guess.” (p. 11) He explains that he feels he is a bad husband, as well as an unresponsive parent to his oldest son Jeremy, and his two sons, Peter and Bohdan, who were adopted from Ukraine in 2005. He also worries about his complicated relationship with his father as well as his father’s traumatic past. In order to deal with these issues, Maurice is writing a book. Detachment is the result of his psychological exploration.
This memoir is divided into seven chapters exploring the complex adoption process and its aftermath. Maurice and Betsy decided to adopt in Ukraine because of their family connections. Maurice’s family members were Mennonites from Ukraine, who fled the country during World War Two. When they arrive in Ukraine, they discover that instead of a little girl and another child, they are going to adopt two brothers. This begins a lengthy adoption process which costs a great deal of money and results in a great deal of frustration with Ukrainian officials.
After returning to Winnipeg with their new sons, Maurice and Betsy are ecstatic. They now have the perfect family! However, when the boys go to school, cracks start to appear in their relationship. They discover that Peter, the older child, has an attachment disorder because of his traumatic past. ”It was common with kids who were adopted or in foster homes, and who’d experienced severe neglect or child abuse.” (p. 138) This results in emotional outbursts and destructive behavior. The emotional toll of dealing with Peter’s issues, as well as a bad case of writer’s block, puts a huge strain on their marriage. Will their family survive?
Maurice Mierau’s powerful book, Detachment, is a very insightful and intriguing memoir. Readers will be drawn to his honest portrayal of the Ukrainian adoption process which is a bureaucratic nightmare. His exploration of the impact of adopting two brothers from another country is poignant and sometimes difficult to read. He does not shy away from tough discussions about how the adoption process has impacted his marriage. The memoir explores the complexities of creating a family, as well as what it means to be a family.
Detachment also gives readers a great deal of insight into the life of a writer. Writing is not always a structured lifestyle, and at times, it can be emotionally draining. Maurice’s examination of his father’s history is particularly difficult. As a result, Maurice suffers from a lengthy period of writer’s block. Any writer who has had such a period will definitely sympathize with him.
Maurice Mierau is the founding editor of the Canadian fiction imprint Enfield & Wizenty, and the online magazine The Winnipeg Review. Born in Indiana, Maurice grew up in Nigeria, Manitoba, Jamaica, Kansas, and Saskatchewan. He now lives in Winnipeg with his family.
Maurice Mierau’s new book of poems, Autobiographical Fictions, appeared in September 2015. Detachment: An Adoption Memoir, was published in 2014, and won the 2016 Kobzar Literary Award.
Detachment is available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.
–Reviewed by Myra Junyk
Freehand Books, 2014. 226 p. ISBN 978-1-55481-206-4