Red Dust Road, By Jackie Kay

Sidney Poitier, he ain't
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The Independent Culture

When Jackie Kay first met her birth father in a hotel in Nigeria, he tried converting her into a born-again Christian and told her that she must be kept a secret from his family. It was hardly the reunion she'd long been waiting for, and her disappointment at this short, wiry, seemingly demented old man (she had imagined a tall, dignified Sidney Poitier type) is honest, human and sad. But the meeting did at least begin Kay's uncertain and emotional love affair with Africa, something that she needed in order to fill a gap in her life.

The child of a white woman from Nairn and a Nigerian postgraduate student who met in Aberdeen in the early 1960s, Kay is too experienced and too intelligent a writer simply to give us a personal account of an adopted girl looking for her parents. (Did they love each other? Did they think of her?) So much of her work involves teasing out what matters, and throughout this memoir she slips between past and present, between her troubled birth parents and her more secure, and much beloved adoptive parents: two Scottish Communist supporters who took free trips to Moscow and taught their children about equality, respect and the importance of standing up for yourself.

As much as it is a love letter to Africa, this memoir is also a love letter to this couple, whose care and commitment made Kay who she is today. It is touching, full of strength and truth.

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