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on 20 February 2006
This book was bought for me by my birth mother who I made contact with 6 years ago at the age of 34. I've just bought it for my sister - also adopted. For anyone who has been adopted, especially someone who is a foundling, the book will be fascinating. The history of foundling hospitals from the mid 18th century to the present day is particularly interesting and not something that, to be honest, I was really aware of. For anyone who has been adopted, there will be many snippets that you will be able to relate to, which in my mind makes the book worth buying in itself. To know that you aren't alone in how you think or react is a crucial step in coming to terms with your past. Overall the book is well written, informative and sympathetic, in a non patronizing way, to the issues related to being adopted. I wonder if I should get a copy for ‘Mum and Dad’?
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First, a note to the reviewer who thought this was Kate's biography - it isn't - she wrote that before she wrote this and it's called The Kindness of Strangers : The Autobiography.

What is your name? What were your parent's names? When and where were you born? We get asked these questions throughout our lives. For most of us, including myself, these are easy questions to answer. For adopted children whose birth parents are known to the authorities (such as Kate Adie), they are a little trickier to answer, but there is another group of people who are unlikely ever to be able to answer these questions accurately. These people are called foundlings and they are the subject of this book.

I'd never come across the word foundling prior to reading this book, but it's easy to work out what it means. Just as a duckling is a baby duck, so a foundling is a baby found - after being abandoned by his or her parents. Even if we haven't seen any for ourselves, we've all heard on the news or read in the newspapers about babies abandoned on doorsteps or in telephone kiosks, taxis, rubbish skips, bushes and any number of other places. Occasionally, the baby's natural mother is identified but more often they aren't. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, as everybody who even vaguely remembers the Old Testament knows about Moses. Yes, Moses was a foundling. The problem of abandoned babies in Western Europe and North America is nothing like it once was because of contraception, abortion and a reduction in poverty, but it still exists. Elsewhere in the world, the number of foundlings may actually be increasing.

Much of this book is devoted to looking back in time, particularly to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, In those days, special institutions (called foundling hospitals but they certainly didn't merit the hospital tag) were set up to look after foundlings. The institutions were run in almost military fashion but the mortality rate was appalling. Any foundling who entered such an institution was lucky to come out alive. Boys who came in and survived the ordeal often ended up with a job in the army or navy, which was no surprise given the way they were raised. Girls were trained to be - guess what - domestic servants.

Entry to these institutions was often via a turning wheel that guaranteed anonymity for whoever deposited the baby. It seems from the description and picture that the turning wheel was a bit like a revolving door with the wheel as its base, except that it was at window height and was about the size of a window. So the mother could just arrive at the turning wheel, place the baby on the wheel and leave. Somebody inside would see (or hear) that a new baby had arrived and turn the wheel. At least in Europe, turning wheels have been consigned to history but their modern successors (baby hatches kept at a constant, warm temperature) can be found in Germany. Fortunately, they aren't used very often, but enough to justify their existence. Hey, it's better than dumping a baby in the bushes or on a doorstep.

With imperial expansion, foundling hospitals seized their opportunity to export children for a better life in other countries. American foundling hospitals on the well-established east coast states sent children westwards on inaccurately titled orphan trains. While orphans evoke sympathy because their parents can't be blamed for dying (unless they committed suicide), foundlings are regarded as the offspring of feckless parents, so any sympathy they get is more limited. Maybe a few orphans travelled on these trains but they were far outnumbered by the foundlings. Apart from all the bad history of foundlings in Britain and America, Kate tells us about religious bigotry in Ireland, attitudes to disabled people in Russia and attitudes to girls in China, all of which have affected the treatment of foundlings or made some types of babies more likely to be abandoned by their mothers than others.

In amongst all the historical stuff, Kate tells the stories of various British foundlings that she has met, some of which made huge headlines at the time of their discovery while others have achieved considerable success in life such as Fatima Whitbread the former javelin thrower and Andy McNab the former SAS soldier and now successful author.

The most notorious and strangest case concerns a baby girl, probably born in late 1936, found in a blackberry bush among the hills (the Sussex Downs) near Worthing in August 1937. Most unwanted babies are abandoned soon after their birth where they can easily be found, but this one was abandoned several months after her birth in a well-concealed, remote location, having clearly been well treated prior to her abandonment. She was only found because a family on holiday just happened to take a walk that brought them near enough to hear faint crying (only the mother heard it) in the distance, which was very loud when they got near. The baby, later adopted by a different couple, was still enjoying life as a grandmother in her late sixties when Kate Adie wrote this book. Despite the unusual circumstances and nationwide publicity at the time, the birth parents were never identified. If you do a Google search for Worthing baby 1937, you can read more about this story than I've said here, but less than you'll find in this book.

This is a fascinating book about an issue that I'd never really thought about before, but which aroused my curiosity. I'm glad that the worst horrors are consigned to history, at least in the developed world, but the problem isn't going to disappear.
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on 24 April 2011
I don't usually like this sort of book which can be a bit 'reality TV sob storyish' but Kate Adie's writing, always articulate but sensitively analytical, makes this an engaging and informative read. It certainly made me think in a completely different way about the importance of family and shared history.
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on 27 October 2007
Kate Adie's research into the personal stories of foundlings and adoptees is written with sensitivity and without sentimentality. She talks to people from all walks of life whose uncertain beginnings have left them with a tangled web of half resolved questions and emotions.

As well as looking at the experiences of individual foundlings (many of whom are well known), Adie looks at the issues, personal and practical, moral and cultural, for the mothers who abandoned their babies and across a number of countries and religions.

The book is very thought provoking, particularly as the problem of "unwanted" babies and what to do with them is with us today, all around the world, as much as it ever was.
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on 1 May 2013
Fascinating and very moving insight into Foundlings. Only people of a certain age can appreciate the stigma attached to babies born out of wedlock. It must have been been a desperate situation for the mothers and painful for a child to discover they have been abandoned.
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on 14 January 2009
Thought this was going to be an autobiography based on the fact that Kate is adopted. Far from it. Her own life is possibly the basis for this book but is rarely mentioned. Interesting history of the Foundling movement in this country and elsewhere,and also gives horrifying details of the number of abandoned babies everywhere,past and present,and their fates.
I think it may be useful to an adopted person to know they are certainly not alone in their desire to 'know',and also gives some useful contacts.
I would say its not an easy read,but worth it in the end.
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on 16 April 2011
I have always had a high regard for Kate Adie's TV reporting and was not disappointed by this book.
It is very well researched,clearly set out, and therefore easy to read.
It will be enjoyed by the general reader and also the professional social worker.
Those who are the subject of the book will also find it helpful.
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on 13 December 2009
Following a visit to the Foundling Museum in London, I found this very interesting as to the effects of being a foundling. Both books were in excellent order, one even signed by the authoress.
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on 27 March 2014
This book is very well written & tells the stories of so many abandoned children. It also includes personal accounts of some individuals who have risen above their very difficult start in life.
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on 9 October 2013
I have not finished it yet but so far it has been an unsentimental and powerful description of the particular problems of identity which adopted children face as they become adults. J
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