Our latest Notable Narrative, “Little Girl Found,” is the tale of a baby discovered outside a Dunkin’ Donuts in Shanghai, China. Financial Times correspondent Patti Waldmeir, who was with a friend when he found the baby, just happens to have two adopted Chinese daughters at home – girls who had also been abandoned as infants.
So opens the story of Baby Donuts. Waldmeir doesn’t stage a full-blown narrative so much as she uses the anonymous baby’s discovery and entry into state care as a thread running through a sketch of 21st-century China. Wanting to know what happened to Donuts but unable to get information through obvious channels, Waldmeir contacts the Shanghai department of foreign affairs and claims to be writing a story. This ends up, of course, being the very story we are reading.
A first-person narrator leveraging intimacy to fold in a broader story, Waldmeir stands perfectly poised to tell this tale: She is a financial correspondent in Shanghai and uses that background to ask questions about money and government that shed light on the issue at hand. Her outsider status and insider knowledge help her to interpret the events that follow the baby’s discovery. As an adoptive mother, she has a pretty good idea what kinds of things the baby will wonder about her origins in a decade or so. And the reflections that Waldmeir’s daughters offer on having been abandoned push back against her own thinking, helping to paint a picture that stretches the story beyond any single person’s perspective.
We learn the mechanics of adoptions. We learn how orphanage care has evolved in the last decade. We learn how disabled babies are treated by the state, and the ways in which the state itself wants to be perceived differently by the world. Waldmeir cleverly coaxes us into what is in many ways a policy and economic story about modern China by leaning on our worry – which is her worry, too – about what the future will hold for Baby Donuts.