The story is a letter written by a 24-year-old woman to her niece who was given up for adoption. Bitte Liten, from a close Norwegian family, remembers the summer she was 12 when she was sent away during the last months of her sister's pregnancy to stay with her uncle. Her sister, 15, unwed and pregnant, had found adoptive parents for the child, but Bitte, imagining the pleasures of being an aunt and helping care for a baby, wanted her to keep it.

While at her uncle's, she visits her aging favorite aunt in a nursing home. Her aunt, sinking into dementia, doesn't remember her. This leaves her reflecting on how much of life is memory of the past and dreams of the future. Her period comes that summer for the first time, and with it, a new understanding of adult responsibilities and her sister's predicament.

She writes her sister to tell her she understands her decision and will support her. In return, her sister invites her to be at the hospital the day the baby is born. There Bitte meets the adoptive parents as well as the baby, says hello and goodbye to her little niece, and comes to understand something new and harder about what love looks like. Twelve years later, she records all these memories for the niece who has grown up as someone else's child.


The story emphasizes the character of a family with strong ethnic roots and close ties. The twelve-year-old described might seem oddly unsophisticated to urban kids who grow up with a more complex awareness of sexual pressures and the problems of teen pregnancy.

But the protagonist thinks honestly and clearly about her own shifting feelings about family, love, responsibility, and the changing character of relationships as elders grow older and siblings grow apart. It's a simple, lovely coming-of-age story that might serve to open useful discussion about family relationships in times of decision, illness, and change.



Place Published

New York



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