Critical Book Review

At first glance, THE BROKEN CORD might appear to be a specialized study with limited appeal to the general reader, but that impression is quickly refuted: Any mother who ingests even moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can produce an FAS child, and Dorris’ treatise is both a practical primer and an eloquent prose poem detailing a poignant and growing problem the ramifications of which are social and legal as well as medical. The solutions to halting the birth of FAS children and to providing for FAS victims’ lifelong care ultimately concern every reader.

“My son will forever travel through a moonless night with only the roar of wind for company,” writes Dorris. “A drowning man is not separated from the lust for air by a bridge of thought, he is one with it, and my son, conceived and grown in an ethanol bath, lives each day in the act of drowning. For him there is no shore.” Indeed, Dorris’ son, Adam, exhibits all the characteristics of the classic FAS child, including “significant growth retardation both before and after birth; 2) measurable mental deficit; 3) altered facial characteristics; 4) other physical abnormalities; 5) and documentation of maternal alcoholism.” Yet because FAS and its companion FAE (fetal alcohol effect) are only recently recognized conditions, for years the cause of Adam’s learning difficulties remained misdiagnosed.

Eventually Dorris’ role as an anthropologist and as the head of the Department of...

(The entire section is 429 words.)