Thursday, May 22, 2014
John Warley will be discussing his new book, “A Southern Girl,” at the Barnes and Nobles at Towne Centre in Mount Pleasant on May 25, from 2-4 p.m.
“A Southern Girl” is the inaugural publication of Story River Books, a South Carolina-based original fiction imprint with editor-at-large Pat Conroy and published by the University of South Carolina Press. The story unites a 1970s American family with an orphaned infant from Seoul, Korea, after Coleman's liberal-thinking and compassionate wife Elizabeth convinces her husband to adopt Soo Yun (later Allie) in spite of Coleman's reservations that stem largely from his deeply steeped Southern elitist values.
With settings shifting seamlessly among the diverse cultures of Vietnam, Korea, Virginia and Charleston, and the varying points of view ranging from Soo Yun's birth mother, her orphanage nurse, Elizabeth and Coleman, “A Southern Girl,” embraces the powerful themes of acceptance and inclusion. The reader becomes absorbed in Allie's development as a Korean child growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, but even more absorbing is the protagonist Coleman's growth. A devoted parent, he evolves from being a man of narrow scope to one who not only embraces diversity but puts his own professional and social reputation at stake to fight against his daughter's exclusion from the privileged society to which he himself belongs.
The book's subject is extremely timely in light of the current crisis with the reduction of international adoptions. John and his deceased wife Barbara adopted a South Korean daughter 35 years ago, and he is alarmed by the current situation of children languishing in foster care or institutions and the nearly 60-percent reduction in Americans adopting internationally. “Had the sheer inefficiency of today's broken system been in place in 1978, it is safe to say my very American daughter would be speaking Korean,” John says. While the Warleys' cost for adoption was less than $2,000, and they received their daughter as an infant, current costs are $25,000-$30,000 and adoption takes years with many unplanned delays. “By then, a child has been institutionalized for seven or eight years, and the parents have to be prepared for all kinds of challenges an infant would not have,” according to John.
Allie's immersion into American life in “A Southern Girl,” while filled with trials, proves cultural obstacles can be overcome and differences can open our eyes more clearly to our human commonalities.