A joyful and humane exploration of the search for belonging.

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.

Pub Date: April 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-935633-34-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atlas & Co.

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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