The Orphan Keeper is a novel based on the true story of an Indian boy who is kidnapped from his small hometown, sold to an orphanage, and then adopted by an American couple who provide the child with a quintessential American upbringing. The bare facts of the true story create a sturdy foundation for a work of fiction, and novelist Camron Wright almost succeeds in weaving a narrative spell.
Almost — but not entirely. There is much to admire about The Orphan Keeper, particularly the early chapters that follow the boy, Chellamuthu, from his humble village to the confines of the orphanage where he knows he doesn’t belong because he has a family, and culminate with the culture shock he experiences in middle-class America.
What jarred me out of the fictional dream was the fact that in the space of a decade or so, Chellamuthu — renamed Taj Khyber by his adoptive parents — completely forgets his Indian history and heritage and family. This would have been plausible had Chellamuthu been adopted as an infant — or even a toddler of 2 or 3 — but he was 8 when he landed in America, old enough to have acquired some concrete memories. From that point on, through Taj’s experience in a study-abroad program in England to his marriage and then his return to India to what becomes a desperate search to find his home and relatives, the fictional spell was broken.