Poet and novelist Kay (Creative Writing/Newcastle Univ.; The Lamplighter, 2009, etc.) recalls growing up black in a white adoptive family and the journey that reunited her with her birth parents.
Immediately after her birth in 1961, the author, the love-child of a Scottish nurse and a Nigerian student, was put up for adoption. Two Glaswegians with communist leanings, John and Helen Kay, brought her into their home a few weeks later to keep the first “coloured child” they had adopted, Maxwell, company. Despite the inevitable prejudice she encountered in her largely segregated environment, the life she shared with her unconventional “mum and dad” was happy, and she grew up comfortable in her own skin. But like most adopted children, she began to wonder about her real parents, creating elaborate fantasies about a beautiful mother who had been madly in love with a father she imagined as “a handsome cross between Paul Robeson and Nelson Mandela.” It was only after she had reached adulthood and had given birth to her own child that Kay, prompted by questions regarding her medical history, decided to track down her parents. She finally met her mother Elizabeth, a “sad and troubled figure,” in 1991. More than a decade later, through a serendipitous series of events, Kay met her father, Jonathan, an academic turned fundamentalist Christian, in Nigeria. In the comic yet wrenching first meeting that would also be their last, Jonathan ritualistically attempted to cleanse his daughter and himself of past “sins.” By turns warm, funny and tender, Kay’s story offers insight into the universal human quest for self-knowledge.
A joyful and humane exploration of the search for belonging.