[Book Review] The Russian Word for Snow: A True Story of Adoption

Lily Heyen-Withrow reviews The Russian Word for Snow, by Janis Cooke Newman, a tale of infertility, adoption, and all the complications along the way to parenthood.

Infertility adoption: The Russian Word for Snow

St. Martin’s Griffin; 2002

Buy The Russian Word for Snow: A True Story of Adoption on Amazon.com >

Anyone who has lived through infertility will feel at home in the opening chapters of Janis Cooke Newman’s The Russian Word for Snow. Starting with reverse natural family planning, ovulation predictor kits, and a vacation “to relax,” Newman graduates to acupuncture, herbs, and “a round black root still covered with dirt” from Mexico. Well-meaning friends provide worn-out advice, which Newman follows to the letter. She even tries to conceive in a Toyota Celica because that’s how teenagers get pregnant.

While preparing for in vitro fertilization, Newman and her husband look into adoption, “just in case.” A video of a baby boy in a Russian orphanage offers a glimpse of destiny, launching them into international adoption, Russian culture, customs and bureaucracy, and, ultimately, parenthood.

The second half of the book chronicles the quest to adopt their son. Their initial enthusiasm turns to grim disappointment when they are told that he is almost certainly severely disabled. But after informing the adoption coordinator that they are not prepared to parent a child with special needs, they consult another physician. This time they learn that what appears on the video as disability may well be delays due to orphanage life, and they immediately move forward in their quest to adopt their chosen child.

Newman’s Russia is a dreary, gray, depressing country. The simplest task is fraught with inexplicable complications. The uncertainty of their situation is gripping; their tenaciousness either brave or mad. There is sadness in the couple’s valiant attempt, for the sake of their child, to love the country that bore him. Newman has a gift for dialogue, and her succinct descriptions make for a good read. She doesn’t reveal much about the emotional aspects of her experience, but her descriptions are so vivid that you will imagine for yourself how it feels to go through the complex adoption process—and the happiness at the ultimate outcome. For anyone contemplating a similar path, The Russian Word for Snow shows what that journey might be like.

Reviewed by Lily Heyen-Withrow, a writer and the mother of a son adopted from an orphanage in Bulgaria.

Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this