Where do I belong in this world? Do I truly own the story to my own life, or are there things about me that I have yet to discover? These questions, which can easily become a source of obsession throughout one’s life, are asked throughout Frances Itani’s novel, That’s My Baby, her follow to Tell – a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize! Read on for our review.
That’s My Baby follows Hanora Oak, a young woman who at eighteen-years-old, in 1938, is informed that she is adopted. At that moment, she feels a deep unease: her story has now been altered, with her family and her own life now seeming to be much more mysterious and unknowable. With the support of her cousin Billie and her boyfriend Tobe, who is soon after shipped off to fight in World War II, Hanora begins using family heirlooms and old photographs, to hopefully piece together her secret family history, leading her from her small town of Deseronto, across Europe.
Flash forward 50 years. Hanora, now an accomplished journalist, is still left wondering about her biological parents. She spends her days caring for Billie, now suffering from dementia, and is in the arduous process of reading through the diaries of Mariah Bindle – a local artist whose life takes some unexpected turns as she begins to do her part during the World War II, whom Hanora wishes to write a book about. Through the writings of Mariah and the recollections of Billie, Hanora may finally uncover the answers that have been kept from her for so many years.
I loved That’s My Baby, and I feel it’s a story that will stay with me a long time. Seeing the characters at two very different points in their lives created vastly different moods for the different time periods, which made me always engrossed in the story, and wanting to know how they got to where they were in the present.
Once the diaries of Mariah Bindle are introduced, I thought they were an unexpected and mysterious new layer to the central plot, while also offering fascinating insights regarding displaced families during this time, and the struggles of those immigrating from Europe. Certain diary entries are so vivid and specific in the descriptions, that the images stayed with me long after reading. By the time all the plot threads in the book were resolved and tied together, I was very surprised by the cumulative emotional effect it had on me!
That’s My Baby was a touching and life-affirming read about the urge to make sense of who you are through obsessing over the past, and how the lives of others can affect us so deeply that we strive to make keep their memories alive.
What do you think Savvy Readers, are you interested in checking out That’s My Baby? Let us know @SavvyReader!