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Red Dust Road - Book of the Month

by Jackie Kay

The first thing Jackie’s father says when they first meet is that he wants to pray for her. She is, after all, the embodiment of his past sins. After a two hour session of chanting and prayer most of us would have high-tailed it out of there and left him to it - but not Jackie, who had come to Nigeria to meet Jonathan, her birth father, for the first time.

Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh in 1961 and adopted by Helen and John Kay, a Glaswegian, Communist couple whose sense of humanity, fun and optimism rings out in this wonderful memoir. The subtitle of the book is “an autobiographical journey” and for once that word “journey” is not hyperbole. She moves between Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, Milton Keynes and Nigeria - and a whole gamut of emotions - piecing together the story of her being. What she finds is a Scottish birth mother, a born-again Mormon, suffering from dementia and a Nigerian father, also born-again, who wants to keep Jackie a secret from his other children. I can’t help agreeing with Helen when she tells Jackie, “By God, did we rescue you!” But Jackie is not embittered in any way and writes with compassion and sensitivity about her birth parents - testimony to the parents who raised her and her brother with such love and devotion. It’s also a passionate portrayal of her falling in love with Africa “Where the land of my imagination met the land of my feet”.

I can’t praise this book enough for its storytelling, lyricism, its message, compassion, candour, humour – I could go on and on. It opens up the conversation around adoption and the question of nature vs. nurture, way beyond Jackie’s own story. It’s a brilliant assessment of love and what family means and an antidote to so much of the misery memoir drivel that we find on bookshop shelves today.

Irene Haynes

Published by Picador – 304 pp

Read our interview with Jackie Kay.


I'm a family lawyer and I found this book really helpful in my work. It's great to read such an articulate account of adoption and I think that Jackie was so lucky to be adopted by the wonderful Kays. I've just suggested it to my reading group. I'll put another post when we've had our discussion.

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