Barbara Leigh Ohrstrom begins her memoir, Searching for the Castle: Backtrail of an Adoption, by warning readers that this is a story without a happy ending. And in the sense of Disney/Hollywood they-all-lived-happily-ever-after endings, this is certainly true. Yet, for me this is a story of triumph, an adopted woman’s journey to unlock her past in order to step into her future.
"Your wound is also a shining, multifaceted gem."
At the heart of the story is Ohrstrom’s search for her birth parents during the years before the Internet, when searching meant mailing letters and waiting weeks for a response or driving hundreds of miles to visit agencies and hospitals in person.
The mystery of why Ohrstrom was adopted is complicated by her discovery that the foster family with whom she lived for roughly three years might have been the perfect solution for her needs, if only they had been permitted to continue raising her and her two siblings. This is the first book I have read which details the perspective of an adopted person who spent considerable time in foster care prior to her adoption, and Ohrstrom does a good job of describing her impressions as a very young child of what was happening to her. As the book continues, the reader’s understanding of the situation expands in parallel to Ohrstrom’s own understanding as she matures into a teenager and then into an adult.
The emotions she grapples with during these transformative years will be familiar to any adoptee who has faced the truth of her own beginnings, no matter the circumstance. In Searching for the Castle, we witness Ohrstrom working through stages of confusion, anger, defiance, and grief as she comes to terms with the reality of her family situation. Those who have searched will recognize her outrage at being asked “How do your adoptive parents feel?” when she attempts to change her name back to the one her original parents gave her; they will relate also to her feeling that “my adoption did not erase my sense of being orphaned or its wounds . . . .”
Ultimately, Ohrstrom emerges—as many of us must—as a survivor, a strong woman who manages to create a life of purpose out of the complicated circumstances she has been dealt. She finds, as many of us do, that the search and the finding are only the beginning, that the real work comes after the truth is discovered, when we must synthesize all that we have learned with what we understand of ourselves within our own hearts. Searching for the Castle is not the stereotypical reunion story about finding one’s birth parents; more importantly, it is a story of finding one’s self.
Note: The author provided a copy of this book in exchange for a review.