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The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty Year Search Paperback – 4 Sep 2009
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A compelling story of family secrets,love and loss
About the Author
Martin Sixsmith was born in Cheshire and educated at Oxford, Harvard and the Sorbonne. From 1980 to 1997 he worked for the BBC, as the Corporation’s correspondent in Moscow, Washington, Brussels and Warsaw. From 1997 to 2002 he worked for the British Government as Director of Communications. He is now a writer, presenter and journalist. His previous books are The Litvinenko File, Moscow Coup: The Death of the Soviet System and two novels, Spin and I Heard Lenin Laugh.
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There are several, if not more, such stories, some fiction, some not of the disgraceful attitude and actions taken by the Catholic Church relating to children born of unmarried mothers in a convent, of the huge sums of money paid before these children reached their final home. This book tells the wrenching story of one mother's quest to find her 'stolen' son and of the son's quest to find his natural mother. It doesn't make for pleasant reading and it will not spoil the story to say that both quests are unfulfilled.
It is their respective journeys which trouble the reader's mind but the author gives the impression that this is some sort of thriller or, at worst, a docu-drama earmarked for television. He concentrates the more on Michael Hess, the son, born Anthony Lee, a gay Democrat working within the Republican legislature presumably because he was able to follow through with his investigative journalism and maybe because his plight would touch more hearts and minds. But the author's style lets him down in the end - certainly for me, as I couldn't really warm to the man despite his torrid early life.
One day, maybe, somebody will write a more definitive work on the excesses and brutal treatment by the Catholic Church in Ireland of its sinning sheep. One day but my guess that day will be a long time coming. This book doesn't hit the spot at all though it is a journey we would not want to make ourselves.
Unlike other books on this subject which are written mostly in memoir form, Martin Sixsmith's book is written as a novel and allows us the reader to meet lots more characters than just mother and son.
Martin Sixsmith's research is painstakingly accurate and includes some excellent background information into the Catholic Church's power and influence in the 1950s and also opens a window to us the reader as to why the government of the time (De Veleras) allowed the Church to wield so much power, and allowed the Church to treat 'fallen women' and their children in such a cruel and terrible way.
Once Michael, Philomena's son, leaves Ireland bound for his new home and adoptive family, we follow his story right through his difficult childhood to rising to the dizzy heights of Chief Counsel for the Republican Party in the Regan/Bush era.
During this time, Michael searches for his mother, and she for him.
As the book is written in the structure and format of a novel, the reader is treated to a variety of characters, views, opinions and again a unique insight to the workings of the US President's office and his powerful legal team.
But ultimately, this is a tragic story of a mother loosing her much loved son, and his mother.
Martin Sixsmith writes beautifully, and it's clear from the very beginning that he cares for his characters - even those we find difficult to like.
This isn't a story/book about the Catholic Church's abuses in Ireland.
It's much more than that. This is a story about Ireland in the 1950s/60s and the Church's treatment of unmarried mothers and their children;
a story about homophobia in the US and the lack of intervention or support of the US Administration for AIDS sufferers in the 1980s/90s;
of a closet gay man working for a homopobhic employer (the US government at the time) and a story of how trying to reconcile his past with his present ultimately destroyed him - and of a mother who has never forgotten her little boy who was taken from him in such a cruel and cold way.
Factually accurate and beautifully written, it also includes many amazing photographs of the characters and places the reader is introduced to.
Worldwide it's difficult to know how many Anthonty and Philomena Lees are out there.
How many children who were taken for adoption by the Catholic Church nuns are today looking for their mothers - and how many mothers are searching for their children?
We'll never know and many will never understand why their search is so desperate and so important.
But what this story confirms is that that even in death, the bond between a mother and her child can never be broken and love will always find a way through.
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