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'Lost Bird' adrift with false facts

LOOKING FOR LOST BIRD; By Yvette Melanson with Claire Safran; Bard; 223 pages; $22.Yvette Melanson thanks those who helped write her autobiography, "Looking for Lost Bird," the story of a Navajo child who was "stolen," then adopted by a New York couple.

Melanson had help writing this book but not enough help. Along with the editors and the writer, Claire Safran, who helped turn her "thoughts, emotions and experiences into words," Melanson needed a fact-checker.

Melanson makes several references to Utah in her book. She implies that Salt Lake City is known to be the first stop for stolen Navajo children before they are sold or adopted out in other states. Instantly, the Utah reader is alert, waiting for proof of the allegation. The proof never comes.

There are other references to Utah and to LDS people whom Melanson encounters around the Navajo reservation. The reader grows increasingly wary when Melanson says her birth certificate states she was born in Salt Lake General Hospital, which later burned down. (You suspect she meant Salt Lake County Hospital, which later was torn down.)

At one point Melanson offhandedly mentions how some Mormons say of Navajos, "First we'll whiten them, then we'll delight in them." Is this a folk saying any Utahns are familiar with? Is she referring to the pre-1978 edition of the Book of Mormon, which refers to Nephites as "white and delightsome?"

Eventually the reader grows uneasy about the entire story. You wonder if there is more to the part about her teen years. Is it really her stepmother's fault that she doesn't come home at night? Is it true she's not partying but sleeping at the hospital where she is a candy striper?

"Lost Bird" is, ultimately, a tale told by a naive person -- which is a shame. The homecoming of an adopted child is inherently dramatic. Melanson doesn't have enough perspective to do justice to her own life.

More important, many Navajo parents did give up their children. Too many. It may be true that some children were actually kidnapped -- a crime that needs to be exposed.

"Lost Bird" would be an important book if it contained proof.