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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Red Dust Road
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'd never heard of Jackie Kay before and didn't know anything about this book apart from the little that is said on the book jacket. I thought that the book starting with the meeting with her birth father was a bit clunky and I would have preferred that the book had started with the account of her childhood with her (wonderful) adoptive parents and brother but I guess that this way quickly established the deep wound at the centre of her life. With the account of her childhood I quickly got into the book and I began to cry and I didn't really stop throughout the whole book! I found it all very, very emotional - like a supercharged episode of the BBC series "Who do you think you are" - although I have never personally experienced anything like this myself. However, I did empathise with the accounts of Jackie's meetings with her birth mother who, like my own mother, was developing dementia (more crying).

I thought the book was beautifully written, I enjoyed the jumps in time and space - from Glasgow to Nigeria, from Aberdeen to Milton Keynes - which seemed to flow naturally and replicate the haphazard nature of memory. And I got a real sense of all these places, particularly Nigeria (the red dust road of the title). I thought that this was an amazingly powerful book, full of warmth and very funny but I'm really glad to have finished it so I can finally stop bloody crying!
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on 23 April 2017
Brilliant, so many areas covered and written with such compassion and empathy. Young people should read it to understand racist, adoption, tracing families, anarchy etc and how the action of a human can sometimes destroy others lives. A lesson to be learned.
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on 1 December 2016
A heartwarming story well told.
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on 16 January 2016
A lovely, heartwarming and heart-wrenching read.
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on 18 June 2010
I read this book because of the beautiful and funny extract that was printed last week in the Observer; it turned out that the extract itself was to some extent summarised, and the chapter it was taken from is even more moving and indeed even funnier. The scene was Jackie's first meeting, surreal and difficult, with her birth father in Nigeria. He turns out to be born-again Christian and spends two hours blessing her - gruelling for both of them. Jackie's mum's response to the episode was: "eh did we save you!": as we see throughout the book, this is typical of the warmth and humour of her adoptive parents, attributes they have obviously passed onto Jackie and which gleams through her prose.

The interweaving of memories from different ages and stages has the effect of biography by theme - a brave and unusual choice as it is harder than a typical chronological story, but, because it is done so very deftly, it creates a story far more compelling than a more usual autobiography.

It never feels like an appeal to our sympathy, or the cry of a victim, despite the extraordinary range of difficulties Jackie faced at one point or another (summed up by her experience of a reading in a school where "anyone interested in adoption, racism or sexuality talk to Jackie..."). Instead, we are shown an array of scenes, difficult and funny, telling and warm, through her unfailingly luminous and limpid prose, from her childhood in Glasgow with communist parents, to meeting both birth parents (astonishingly, both born-again Christians), via pictures of a working poet's life. Stunning, just as the Observer extract promised.
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on 18 June 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I just don't understand how anyone could give this book fewer than the full five stars! For me, this was one of the best books I've ever read - thought-provoking, hilarious, sad and beautiful in turn. I have already lent it to my best friend, bought a copy for my husband, and recommended it to other friends.

It's an engaging and deeply moving read - and it starts brilliantly by describing Jackie's first meeting with her biological father, a born-again Christian and preacher in Nigeria. At various points while reading this I laughed out loud (including while on the underground with people looking at me and thinking I must be mad - but it really was side-splittingly funny) and was also moved to tears.

This is non-fiction at its rawest - Jackie Kay's autobiographical writing is both unflinchingly genuine and beautifully written. She is a very appealing, likeable narrator, which makes it even harder to read of her experiences of rejection and prejudice - although these experiences aren't recounted with self-pity at all. Kay's memories are woven together thematically, so the book does jump around a bit chronologically, but it's very compelling in terms of how it builds up these themes in rich layers waiting to be dug into when Kay meets her birth parents.

This is not just a book about adoption (though obviously that forms its starting point) but about the whole experience of growing up, and about the nuances of growing up as a girl, as a lesbian and as somebody of mixed race. So I know it is not just about one thing, and that may make it less appealing to some readers. But personally I felt this really worked for me. Because how can you understand adoption, and think about what makes real family, without thinking about the whole experience of growing up and discovering yourself and understanding what family means? It did not matter to me that I had not been adopted, am not lesbian and am not mixed race - that is not the point and that is not why you should pick up this book. Red Dust Road is not a book that shuts out readers. Rather, it is a book that welcomes them in, with great generosity of spirit, inviting them to listen to the story and think and empathise and understand. And throughout the whole book, Jackie Kay's extraordinarily genuine and appealing voice shines through.

A stunning book.
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on 3 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is the prose sequel to Jackie Kay's moving autobiographical book of poety - The Adoption Papers. The poetry ultimately left you hanging - because it was about a growing person's search for their identity through her re-imagining of her natural parents' lives and her adoption story, with no resolution in reality. The Red Dust Road is that full colour prose resolution -as the parents answer back with their real lives, as she finds her father in Nigeria, as she struggles with the emotional consequences, as she reexamines her imagination and returns also to her adoptive parents even more fully alive to what they have given her. It faces up to the complex mix of biology and learnt experience that is even more stark when you have both natural and adoptive parents, and cultural divides that are great between urban and rural Scotland and even greater between Glasgow and Nigeria. This is an ultimately joyful book. Despite real tragedies and set backs, Jackie Kay returns with a rich family store. The clear honesty of the writing means you end up feeling she has sat down at the kitchen table and told you it all herself. I found myself finishing it at five in the morning.
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on 5 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The biological child of a Nigerian man and a Scottish woman, Jackie Kay was adopted by a white Glaswegian couple right after being born in 1961. She was raised in a loving family and there was never any doubt that they would always be her "real" parents. However, the colour of her skin was different to that of her parents and most of her peers and at one point in her life, she started wondering about her biological parents; Why was she sent away for adoption? What were her parents like? Where did they come from?, etc.

The book describes in snippets her life growing up different in Scotland, her (fantastic) relationship with her parents both as a child and as an adult - and of course finally meeting her biological parents in Milton Keynes and Nigeria respectively. The nonlinear structure of the book allows her to link past events to the present in a way that makes every story she tells relevant and at no point did I feel that she oversentimentalised her experiences although there were certainly times where she could be excused if she had had a bout of self-pity. The writing is fluent and certain passages truly beautiful - especially when she describes the nature in Scotland/Nigeria. She clearly feels a connection to both places and although her family ties are obviously stronger with Scotland, the time she has spent imagining/romantisizing her father's country means that she also somehow feels at home in Nigeria right from the beginning.

I've enjoyed following her journey - mental and physical - to bring together the missing pieces of her life and would definitely recommend this book both to learn more about the(an)adoption experience and for a genuinely good summer read for a few hours of relaxation.
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VINE VOICEon 7 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't often choose to read autobiographies but was lured to this by some positive reviews and after hearing Jackie Kay talk about her book on the radio. She was adopted as a baby and Red Dust Road is her story of her search for her birth parents.

In no way is this a "misery memoir" - her story is told with openness, honesty and humour. Like many adopted children she had built up pictures of what her birth parents would be like and (let's face it) neither of them really came up to her expectations. But she shows no bitterness or resentment and tries hard to understand them.

There is a dramatic tension when she recounts her trips to Nigeria to locate her father - but when he turns out to be a "born again" Christian zealot she continues to treat him with courtesy and respect. Let us hope that her dream of being welcomed into her village with drums beating will one day come true!

The real hero and heroine of this memoir are John and Helen Kay, Jackie's adoptive parents. They sound like wonderful people - strong, principled, funny, loving and generous.

Red Dust Road is a beautifully written book that quickly draws the reader in. Warm and life-affirming.
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on 9 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Poet and novelist Jackie Kay was born after a fleeting relationship between a Nigerian student and a Highland nurse in Aberdeen. She was adopted by a sparky communist couple in Glasgow and has grown to be one of the UK's most exceptional writing talents. This touching book finds Jackie musing on what has formed her as a person - as she traces and contacts her biological parents as a middle aged woman and parent herself. The book is beautiful, touching and generous. It glows with love and warmth for her adoptive parents and understanding for her birth family too. The characters really come alive. You can only conclude that families can be made from love and commitment regardless of biology. But genetic connections and the affinity to a place and community are powerful too.
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