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Mother Country: Memoir of an Adopted Boy

A revelatory true story about adoption, secrets and the need to belong.
When Jeremy Harding was a child, his mother, Maureen, told him he was adopted. She described his natural parents as a Scandinavian sailor and a “little Irish girl” who worked in a grocery. It was only later, as Harding set out to look for traces of his birth mother, that he began to understand who his adoptive mother really was—and the benign make-believe world she built for herself and her little boy. Evoking a magical childhood spent in transit between west London and a decrepit houseboat on the banks of the River Thames, Mother Country is both a detective quest, as Harding searches through the public records for clues about his natural mother, and a rich social history of a lost London from the 1950s. Mother Country is a powerful true story about a man looking for the mother he had never known and finding out how little he understood the one he had grown up with.


  • “Harding is a conjurer. Give him a long-since demolished stairwell, and he'll give you a world—its sound, its smell, the feeling that you could stumble upon it still.”
  • “Stunning.”
  • “Beautifully written, funny and sad, this book is simply captivating.”
  • “Fluid and invigorating ... a delicate and absorbing account of Harding's investigation into the circumstances of his adoption.”
  • “Harding's story is that of an adopted boy growing up in London, and his decision later to search for his natural mother. Readers get a detailed chronicle of the search and its ramifications, turning up hidden facets of the family Harding thought he knew.”
  • “An able, imaginative work of kinship and family.”
  • “Its colorful, insightful revelations about his adoptive parents and compelling discoveries about his birth mother give this slender memoir a special magic and beauty that will grip the reader long after the final page is turned.”


  • Reconceptualizing Family History

    "Frustrated by the fact that most texts on women treated 'the man's world' as the given and then simply asked where and how women fitted in," Stephanie Coontz writes, "I decided to undertake a survey of American gender roles: that was the starting point of the present book" — The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600–1900, published by Verso in 1988.

    Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, c. 1863-65. via Wikimedia Commons.

    As the focus of her research shifted from "woman's private sphere" to the family as a larger arena in which the public and private intersect, Coontz became more attentive to the diversity of household arrangements across time and space. "Stimulated by the burgeoning research into family history," she writes, "I began to look at the family as a culture's way of coordinating personal reproduction with social reproduction — as the socially sanctioned place where male and female reproductive activities condition and are conditioned by the other activities into which human beings enter as they perpetuate a particular kind of society, or try to construct a new one." 

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  • Reconceptualizing Family History (Part II)

    Continued from part I.

    Detail from Francis William Edmonds' The New Bonnet (1858).

    The Limits of Structural and Demographic Analysis

    Although it is important to compare demographic trends and household structures and seek their economic correlates, such procedures yield only limited information about the history of families. Olga Linares points out: “Qualitative changes in the meaning of interpersonal obligations may be as important in distinguishing among household types as more easily measured changes in size and form.” Indeed, as Barrington Moore Jr has commented, tabulating structural differences “necessarily involves ignoring all differences except the one being measured.” Changes in social relations and patterns are not “reducible to any quantitative differences; they are incommensurable. Yet it is precisely such differences that matter most to human beings.”47

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  • Wilmers and Harding in the US

    Mary-Kay Wilmers and Jeremy Harding will be embarking on an east-coast tour of the US this month. This is a rare opportunity for Americans to hear from Mary-Kay Wilmers, author of The Eitingons and editor of the London Review of Books, and Jeremy Harding, author of Mother Country and an LRB contributing editor, on the role of memoir in contemporary letters.

    Wilmers and Harding will be joined by guests including Michael Wood and James Shapiro in Boston, New York, Princeton, and New Haven. We hope to see you at one of their talks ...

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