I tend to avoid any book that calls itself a memoir. I associate the word with the misery memoir genre or cynical celebrity kiss and tell tales. I also tend to avoid most self-published adult fiction/ autobiography by anyone I know just in case ….
Loose Connections is the beautiful exception to all my ‘rules.’ It is an exceptional book – this ‘true story full of holes.’ It contains all the features of Malaika’s writing that stands out in her children’s fiction: clarity, warmth, the exploration of difficult issues and humour. In this book Malaika is shining a light on her own life in particular her experience as a mixed-race child growing up in a children’s home in the 1960s and her subsequent search for her birth parents. It is not a spoiler to say that there are no happy ever after rosy reunions where everything is neatly tied up in a bow. This story is messy and inconclusive like life and all the better for it. Some questions are never answered, some people never found. Some family re-connections are problematical.
The contents page reads like a poem with its chapter headings, Tea and Sympathy, Flesh and Blood and Heart and Soul. Some of the chapters are written from the perspective of her birth mother and the way she was treated as an unmarried mother in the 1950s. She describes her own birth in all its harsh unflinching loneliness and casual cruelty.
Other chapters recount her life growing up in the children’s home. As a child who grew up in nearby Manchester at the same time I could relate with some of Malaika’s experiences at school.
This book is all about the search for connections. When she left care and went to FE college in Moseley she made new friends from the Caribbean community, ‘They understood me….and they welcomed me into their homes and loved me up.’
Sometimes it is those loose connections of friends and carers that provide a solid foundation of love – albeit unspoken. Later on in the book Malaika revaluates the relationship with her ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ in the children’s home.
Upon the birth of her son she says,
‘He was the first of my blood relatives that I ever met and every time someone said, “he looks just like you”, my heart, and my head, swelled a little more.’
She also says,
‘I’ve missed having a history. I’ve missed knowing where my people come from, the place where I belong, where my toes would recognise the sand and people I don’t know would see my grandmother’s face in mine and welcome me home.’
I hope this book is picked up by a mainstream publisher and gets the wider recognition it deserves. Loose Connections is a moving and honest account of growing up in care and the search for identity. It should be required reading for social workers, teachers and social historians.
ISBN 978 1533641533
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