My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First, a disclaimer: Craig A. Steffen is a decades-long friend, a former roommate, a former boss, and former client. My goal here is to convince you that my five-star review is unsullied by my longtime association with Craig.
Second, read to the end to learn how to get a free* copy of the book on me.
A Family Apart - Sleuthing the Mysteries of Abandonment, Adoption and DNA is a fascinating ride into the methodical quest of an orphan to uncover the truth about his origins. Even more, this book delves into the questions that come from being uncertain about the realities of personal history - what is true and what is convenient folklore passing for truth in order to protect reputations or preserve innocence.
Craig Steffen's story and the way he unravels it is compelling from the start when he recounts his earliest memories of his holding pin - the orphanage where he spent two years after the disappearance of his mother who, as all would tell him for years, ran off with the family car never to be seen again. By the time the last pages are turned, Craig has taken you on a journey that includes sleuthing his true ancestry and learning of his sometimes tragic backstory.
To say much more about the details would be to give too much away and spoil the read. So instead, I'll tell you what I like about the way the story is told:
- Any memoir - especially those concerning childhood memories - can be loose versions of the truth at best and pure fiction at worst. Craig frames his story with as much evidence as he can dig up. Then he adds some creatively imagined scenes from the perspective of other characters that fill in some gaps with what are likely scenarios. You get that he's taken some license, but see the truth in the story.
- I appreciate the way Craig describes his methodical search for truth and his tenacious pursuit of leads. He conveys all of his research with enough detail that you get the essence and appreciate the work it took without it becoming mind-numbing. On the contrary, I found myself pulled into the pursuit and turning pages to get to the result.
- This is an honest book about the search for roots and the emotional impact of both being rootless and discovering those roots. I'm fairly incurious about my own roots - perhaps because they are not mysterious. Yet Craig brought me into his confused and troubled inner thoughts and made me feel that sense of abandonment and loss in a profound way - all without making me feel as though he were playing for pity or needlessly tugging at my heartstrings.
- This is a well-written book. I'm a persnickety editor as my friends and coworkers can readily attest. For a self-published work, it is well edited and artfully constructed. Craig could have gone in many directions in how he conveyed the story and I think he struck the right balance between thoroughness and elegance.
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