I stumbled onto Shabnam Samuel by chance. A common FB group, a random conversation and then an intentional phone call had me ordering her debut novel on Amazon. I thought of it as good karma. Something I did for a fellow writer. Admittedly, the blurb of her book intrigued me and I would have looked for it in my library first but bought the book instead.
I started it at night when the kids were in bed. I expected I would read a few chapters and finish the book by the weekend. Instead I read the book in two hours flat.
The pacing is fast, the tone conversational, the language so simple it feels bereft. I missed the poetic eloquence of Waves and When Breath Becomes Air. I longed for clever turns of phrases, a narrative arc that would tie Shabnam’s grandmother’s life (who has a fascinating story herself) and Shabnam’s in a neat bow at the end. I went to bed restless and my heart feeling sore.
This morning I woke and Shabnam’s images still haunted me.
The sparse language is brilliance. When the story is so nuanced, so complex and so ridden with pain, all it needs is a vehicle to find expression. The true star of this book is the story. The story of resilience, the story of impossible odds. For all the ways Shabnam’s life could have turned, I am happy she took to writing to share her life.
This story is that of trauma, of the things that happen to a person when they are denied the most basic needs – love, affection, identity, belonging. A big home, food, clothing and shelter can keep a person alive but to thrive children need to be loved, to be celebrated, to be acknowledged.
As an adoptive mother, I am forever thinking about how my parenting impacts my children’s lives. This book lays down in detail what happens when children are denied access to their story, to their roots, to the love that should come from the people who birthed them. It is a wake up call, especially in the times we live in, when kids are taken from their families at the border. It opens our eyes wide to the trauma and its lingering effects on growing children.
It is not an easy read. There is no miracle at the end of the book (well, there is but it will be another book). It is an essential read especially if you are raising a child in any capacity.