Based on a true story, The Orphan Keeper tells the remarkable tale of a young boy who is stolen from his family in a small village in Indian, sold to a Christian orphanage, and adopted by a family in America. Chellamuthu, later renamed Taj, tried to communicate to anyone who would listen that he wasn’t an orphan. He had a family. But no one wanted to hear it except his adopted parents, but they also were met with zero assistance from anyone back in India, so they were forced to give up hope. Taj’s life wasn’t all bad though. He was always fed and well loved by his adoptive parents. The first half of the book recounts Taj’s young life, and then it skips ahead to his graduation from high school and beyond. When he’s studying abroad in London and living with an Indian family, his quest to find his birth family is re-ignited. What’s interesting is that while the reader has heard the beginning of the story, Taj doesn’t remember everything that happened to him. So later in life, it’s a bit trickier to track down his village and his family because he has repressed those memories.
I really enjoyed the second half of the book. The whole book was very interesting, but the details of the adventure to uncover his roots was much more compelling to read about than the horrors of Taj’s childhood. The book is written well, and though long, it’s an easy read. Unlike a memoir, I appreciated the cohesive story of this fictionalized account. There are reading group questions at the end of the book, and this would make an excellent book club selection. There is so much to talk about with this book!
There are some structural flaws with the writing style that I found distracting. The first half of the book is written as a passive account of what’s happening to this little boy; whereas, the second half is a more focused tale of a young man who’s struggling to figure out where he’s from. I found that much more interesting! The writing style makes sense because the real-life Taj wanted to tell his tale, but it would have made for a better book if it had started with the middle and maybe had flash backs of the truth. I don’t think it should have been told linearly. The story was a little boring this way because the reader already knows the reality of what happened.
Ultimately, while I am glad I read this book, it’s not one that I would rush out and tell everyone they have to read. The strong themes of family and religion would perhaps make it a book better suited to a slightly older audience. Those looking to read something a bit more diverse would enjoy this title as well.
Rating: 3 Stars
Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This fact does not in any way impact my thoughts/feelings about the book.