Although I am an adoptee rights activist I seldom read adoption books outside of topics I have a specific interest in. I almost always avoid memoirs. To be honest, most are awful. It may be good therapy to write your adoption story, but please leave it in your desk drawer!

Michael Allen Potter's The Last Invisible Continent: Essays on Adoption and Identity is quite a different story. I've been familiar with Mike's work for several years. I knew this book (currently on Kindle) would be important.

Unlike the typical weepy adoption memoir this one is hard and gritty. It's of the street, but also of the heart. Mike doesn't pull any punches about his mother's mental illness, his battle with alcohol, or his rotten adoption, which he discusses almost in passing, though it it obviously the core of his essays. He calls his work "brutal yet equatable.”

In "The Re-education of Michael Potter," Mike recounts his rescue of his mentality ill birthmother from the crack house she's been tossed into when rockhead neighbors decide to forcibly switch their dump for her government funded apartment—and charge her exorbitant rent for their dump to boot. Mike comes to the rescue, but passionately respects his mother's illness, ambivalence, and independence.. He doesn't treat her like she's crazy.

"Checking the Bastard Box" examines "Fake Mike, without roots or birth records:

When I arrived in San Francisco, late in the summer of 1996, I had someone else's name. In my bags were packed photographs of someone else's family and every form of ID that I brought with me was fake; my driver's license, all of the credit cards that helped to propel me across the continent, my birth certificate, my Social Security and ATM cards. All fraudulent. My medical records contain no information. My blood type has never been recorded. The person whose name appeared in thick block lettering on my English degree was just as fictitious as the Pucks and Oberons of my undergraduate studies.

This is the adoptee conundrum In existential terms we have no authentic identity. We are state constructed, a Potemkin self of fictitious documents, family lies, and the unwanted paternalism of the American political-adoption culture of secrets and lies.

Mike knows that adoptees are erased from their history. Nothing ahappened to us apparently until we were adopted. Saved from one oblivion and dumped into another. Our existence is determined solely by our relationship to the state and the people to whom the state transfers our bodies.

In "Check the Bastard Box," Mike descries this erasure:

I do not have legal access to my own immediate or extended family members, medical records or heritage. My name was changed three times before my tenth birthday, and these name changes were (allegedly) meant to convey a sense of inclusion into those new facsimiles of family units. In reality, however, what adoption did in both cases was to simply transfer ownership of a human being from the state to unrelated private citizens upon completion of sizable financial transactions.

I can't end this review without sharing what happens when Mike attempts to obtain (birth family) non-ID information from the State of New York. From "In Propria Persona:"

In February 2000 I received the results from the New York State Department of Health's Adoption and Medical Information Registry. Almost 30 years after the fact, Peter M Carucci, Director of Vital Records wrote to inform me that my parents were white, Americans and that my father was male and that my mother was female..."my brother was (astonishingly) male.

In 1981 I had a similar experience. Unlike Mike, I had already received my birth records from the State of Ohio, but I was looking for information about my unnamed father. I was informed by a social worker from Toledo Crittentden Services that my father was white, a high school drop-out , blue-eyed and male.

In the end, Mike jettisons' Fake Mike and claims his original self:

I took back my own name for myself, but I also did it for my sister and my brother and for the thousands of adoptees whose lives, identities, and families are still being held hostage by the State of New York.

In Ohio today, over 100,000 adults adopted between 1964-mid-1996 (and some after that date) are denied access to their own state-held record of birth. A bill,to partially remedy this has been passed by the Ohio House but sits ignored in the Senate. It restores the right of 1964-1996 adoptees to their records. 1996ers are not are not covered and remain under restriction.

The Last Invisible Continent is an important book, a superb mixing of the personal and the political—a must-read for anyone concerned about adoption and the embedded secrecy that holds US adoptees, their rights and records hostage to the state.


Marley Greiner has been writing for the Free Press since 1980. She is co-founder and Executive Chair of Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization. She blogs The Daily Bastardette.