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This is My Lemonade: An Adoption Story by Robert Mulkey is a memoir of the author’s discovery of his adoption and subsequent seeking out of his biological family.
This story covers a lot of ground, roughly the years of 1978-2012. It spans much of the author’s life, describing in meticulous detail the interactions, arguments, feuds and love that exists between families and family members on three continents. It’s a story of love, mothers and the importance of family.
Getting from beginning to end can feel like somewhat of a meandering journey, not the confident movement readers of memoir might expect from more experienced authors. For instance, collapsing conversations and events into a select few remembrances retold with specific detail, instead of relying on vagaries such as “Guilio did this or did that,” “head games,” or “heartbreak and anguish” for far more scenes, might have helped strengthen the narrative and facilitate more precise language.
“It was a blending of my families and my identities. No more would there be two separate identities; they were now enmeshed. Even though they might not see each other again, Mauri and my family became acquainted, and the gulf in my life seemed to narrow.”
Yet this remains a touching story. The author learns about his mother and examines a mother’s love, what makes a mother, and deals with life when that mother, or mothers, in this case, are gone. Readers will also get a comprehensive perspective of the author’s family. People who enjoy becoming highly involved with a story may enjoy this aspect, especially when getting to know the author’s Italian grandfather. He will make readers smile every time he appears in the story.
Things to appreciate about this book are the author’s candor, especially about his mental illness. It takes a lot of courage to put so much of one’s self on the page. Also, the display of a son’s love for his mothers, even a mother he’s never met, is touching. Readers going through family problems, especially in relation to adoption, may find help or at least a larger connection in this story. This is My Lemonade is an adequately told, heart-felt story that certain readers will connect with and appreciate.
Reviewed by Axie Barclay
Interviewed by Axie Barclay
Q: When did you decide that you wanted to write this story?
A: I decided to write this story back in 2010. I had been half-heartedly trying to get the ball rolling on this project for about eight years. It was my ex who convinced me to do it. He literally sat me at my laptop and said, “WRITE!”
Q: As far as readers, who do you feel will most connect with this work?
A: Initially, I wrote this book for the adoption community: adoptees, adoptive families and biological families. What I have found is that the people who have responded the most have been women. And it makes sense, women get pregnant (obviously) and women make the difficult decision about adoption. Oftentimes the man isn’t around. Even women who aren’t involved in adoption are responding strongly to the emotions and relationships in this book.
Q: What do you hope readers come away with upon finishing reading This is My Lemonade?
A: Well, I didn’t write this book with a moral to the story. I didn’t feel it was my place to tell people what they should feel. It was always my hope that people would read this book and get something out of it that they weren’t expecting. And that is exactly what I’ve been hearing from readers. If I had to answer specifically, the best I could say is that I hope it causes people to re-evaluate their approach to relationships. That’s broad, I know. But there’s such a labyrinth of relationship issues in this book and I believe it has the potential to touch anyone. I also believe it has the potential to do that in unexpected ways because the story is so unique.
Q: Who are your greatest writing/author influences, as far as style, storytelling, genre, etc.?
A: You know who I love? Sara Davidson. She wrote a great book back in the 70’s called Loose Change which was, essentially, a personal social history of the sixties. I’ve read and re-read it probably three dozen times. I love her writing style in the book and it influenced how I wrote Lemonade. I also enjoy Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad’s writing. They wrote a history of Saturday Night Live and I love their articulation in describing events.
Q: What do you most want readers to know or understand about you, the book and/or the people involved?
A: I suppose what I want them to know is that I really had one desire for this book – to touch a person’s heart. My whole being revolves around making an impact on someone’s life. I don’t care if I’m wealthy or famous. I want to make a positive contribution and I believe the experiences I’ve had in this journey allow that. If someone writes to me and tells me that my book meant something to them, I am gratified. And I’ve been receiving tremendous feedback.
Writing this book did turn out to be cathartic, something I wasn’t expecting. By telling people this very fact, I hope that they might decide to write about something important to them. Whether or not it is published is immaterial. I’ve found that it is important to get your feelings out there. Once your feelings or experiences are written down, they have legitimacy. For me, seeing my life in print has allowed me the luxury of dealing with many issues. Sometimes seeing things in print helps a person realize how ridiculous some behaviors or thoughts are.
Regarding the people involved, I suppose I want readers to understand that everyone plays a part in our lives. That is an obvious statement, but it bears repeating. Each person has a thread in the tapestry of our lives and we can allow that thread to be black or perhaps more colorful. Will that thread have a major influence in our tapestry? Or will it be minimal? Will we pull it out of the tapestry?
Q: How long did it take you to write This is My Lemonade?
A: It took me two and a half years. Then another year to edit, format, etc. So a total of three and a half years. And I’ve spent the last year marketing the book.
Q: There’s a lot of heartfelt, potentially incendiary material in this book. What were the challenges that came with telling this type of story?
A: I suppose the biggest challenge was convincing myself to write these incendiary issues. I would literally stop and contemplate the ramifications of what I was about to write. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had to be real. I had to be honest. People are looking for honesty and they can tell immediately if someone is being disingenuous. This is why I was also willing to write things about myself that I had hidden, that I found humiliating. I knew my friends, acquaintances and family members would be reading this and I had to be willing to admit things about myself that they never knew. As I wrote there were times that I felt I was standing on a stage in front of everyone naked. Ultimately, it became liberating.
There are also challenges regarding the people in this book. My biological brother was initially furious with me but he has come around because he realizes that I’m writing about my experiences and my observations. I tried to express sentiments as my observations, too, so people wouldn’t think something was fact. Since many of the characters are deceased, I didn’t have to worry. Since I didn’t want to besmirch them in death, I had to temper things written about them.
Q: Do you have advice for writers who are facing similar issues and perhaps concerned about writing about the people they are close (or maybe not close) to?
A: My advice is to make sure not to write something as fact unless you can prove it. Make it plain that what you’re writing is from your experience or from your viewpoint. Something that is factual can be expressed as such as abuse. But as to the reasons for the abuse—can you prove them? Or are they your summation? This is something that should be considered throughout your writing.
Q: What are your future writing and/or publishing plans?
A: I have ideas for about 4-5 different books. I was going to write a couple of children’s books—I cannot divulge what they are about because I don’t want to give away my ideas. But they are on the back burner now.
I have recently returned from a five week trip through Europe. During this trip I visited my biological brother who lives in Moscow and is readying himself to move to Kazakhstan as an oil industry executive. While I was visiting him, he offered up to me an apartment he has in Italy along the Adriatic Coast. It is about half an hour from our extended family. I have accepted his generous offer and will be moving there by October 1. This will allow me to fulfill a dream to live in Italy near my extended biological family and grow yet more in my pursuit of my identity and my heritage. I have now decided that my next project will be writing about my efforts to research our mother’s side of the family. She was Polish/Ukrainian. I will now be much closer to the birthplaces of our maternal grandparents. It will be easier to visit theses places and do research. I plan to partner this book with Lemonade. I’ve already started the research process and can’t wait to get over there. I’m also blogging about life as an expatriate.
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