“It’s hard to know what you’re born with and what you take with you as you go.” (199)
Jakiela’s search for what she ‘was born with’ begins when she’s about 40, or, as she puts it, “When my real mother dies, I go looking for another one.” (1)
Here, and throughout the memoir, Jakiela swaddles sorrow in a droll, ironic tone that seals off the material’s potential for sentimentality and melodrama. She is a gifted prose stylist, entertaining, with a marvelous eye for telling detail, and a penchant for zany metaphor. For example, after a night of heavy drinking with, for the first time, two of her biological siblings and her husband, she says, “In the morning I’ll have a bad hangover; short wave static in my eyelids, beer fists in my brain.” (200)
The driving motivation behind Jakiela’s search is her daughter Phelan’s (named after Jakiela’s birth family, a last name for a first name) birth defect, a congenital hip condition that requires her to wear a confining brace, and is likely to require surgery. Jakiela herself was born with club feet requiring her own multiple surgeries. Hence, she’s driven to find out what she can of her biological medical history.
First stop, Catholic Charities, which handled her adoption all those decades before. She sits across from the counselor:
“Her hands tight as an onion in her lap. Beneath those hands is my file, my name printed in black Sharpie on the tab.” (14)
“The Catholic Charities counselor has questions.
They’re my questions, too, though until now I thought I knew the answers. Here, under interrogation, everything is suspect. Every answer becomes another question.
Who are you? Why are you here?” (14)
Seeking answers to these questions, Jakiela’s memoir ranges back and forth in time, shining its light quickly, at times dazzlingly, on key moments and offering memorable bits of story: Her mother, at 70 in high heels, Rockette kicking to show off her good legs; her father, in the weeks before his death, longing for a Chick-fil-a sandwich, waffle fries and a Coke. And, when Jakiela takes him to the food court at the mall, he reveals to her a terrible dark secret from his early childhood.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?
And my father says, “I thought you wouldn’t believe me.” (273)
Thus, this memoir is a vivid mosaic, resembling a jazz improvisation, with one incident relating to another emotionally, though the events may have occurred many years apart. Ultimately, Jakiela’s search results excruciatingly painful revelations about her birth mother, and her own birth, but it also achieves serenity and satisfaction as Jakiela circles back to those she loves the most, her own family, the parents who raised her, her husband and children.
Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe probes the deepest questions about identity and the development of self, but it does so wittily, accessibly. That’s because Jakiela is as open, humble, and down-to-earth a narrator as a reader could ever hope for. Via this compelling persona, she presents a wise, tender and loving look at varieties of families, the one she grew up in, the one she was surrendered by, and the one she has created with her husband and own two children.
“There’s no such thing as an ordinary life…I tell my students. I tell myself this, too. I believe this. I quote Walt Whitman. ‘I am large, I contain multitudes.’ I quote Charlotte the spider. ‘We’re born. We live a while. We die.’
I see the miracle of that. We’re all a punchline.
My birth mother has a perm.” (201)
Reviewed by Julia MacDonell
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