‘The Years of my Birth’ by Louise Erdrich

I first heard this story while driving and forgot to take the correct exit, I was so engrossed. It was read out loud on the New Yorker podcast by Tommy Orange, along with his commentary on the story and its characters, and I found this indelible. The story is about a woman who late in life encounters the family who gave her up for adoption. The rendering of their cruelty to her is vivid; their rejection of her not confined to a single act, but enacted over a protracted period and in evermore, newly cruel ways. The striking twist of the story is that she is white, adopted by a Native American family, and that her physical disability renders her Other to the white family of origin in ways not entirely dissimilar to how they regard Native Americans as Other and as inferior. The sensitively drawn comparisons between these ways of being Other are fascinating in the story, which taught me, as a writer, that no one gets to decide how much is too much for a story about marginalization and resistance. No one gets to cut down multiple identities to just a single one that a hegemonic white audience can somehow more easily deal with. 

Published in The New Yorker, January 10 2011, and available for subscribers to read here

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