From the moment when, as a little girl, she realises that her skin is a different colour from that of her beloved mum and dad, to the tracing and finding of her birth parents, her Highland mother and Nigerian father, the courageous revelatory journey that Jackie Kay undertakes in Red Dust Road is full of unexpected twists, turns and deep emotions.
©2010 Jackie Kay (P)2011 W F Howes Ltd
Before attending the Sydney Writers' Festival earlier this year, I had never head of Scottish poet and author Jackie Kay. But I had time between the events I had planned on going to and decided to go along to her Q&A session, because I was interested in the subject matter of how the imagination helps us to cope in distressing situations. The session began with her reading from her new collection of short stories, Reality, Reality. I was immediately blown away by the story itself and her delivery of it. There was so much heart and humour in both. After the reading, Kay answered questions from both the facilitator and the audience. I came away in awe of not just her talent but her spirit - she radiated joy, compassion and wisdom. This was especially the case when discussing her memoir, Red Dust Road, the story of her search for her birth parents. I came away desperately wanting to read it - as did everyone else, apparently, because by the time I got to the bookshop downstairs it had sold out! I bought Trumpet instead with the intention to get Red Dust Road down the track, if I actually enjoyed Kay's writing as much as I enjoyed listening to her talk.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and Audible.com ran a free trial that allowed the download of one audiobook. Remembering that Jackie Kay narrated the audiobook of Red Dust Road herself, I was eager to check it out. I didn't even finish listening to the sample before I downloaded it. I had to stop myself from listening to the whole thing immediately, because I had committed to reading nothing but Netgalley this month. But a couple of nights later I found myself lying awake at 2am and decided to try listening to Red Dust Road to switch my mind off. An hour later I realised my sleep strategy hadn't worked, because I was too engaged with the story and actually wanted to stay awake to keep listening!
This was my first audiobook and I think it was a great place to start. I found it hard to put down. It was such a delight. Kay's narration is wonderful - engaging, dramatic, humorous and all the more meaningful because this is her story. She relates anecdotes as if she's talking to a friend, and it's incredibly touching. The language she uses is evocative and lovely. In fact, that was one downside of an audiobook - there were several quotes I would have underlined and reread repeatedly if I had a physical copy in front of me. It was just such gorgeous writing.
Another small downside of the audiobook, although perhaps it would have felt this way with a physical book, was that it was hard at times to keep track of when events were happening. It's told in a non-linear way, jumping back and forth between decades, and so it was a little bit confusing in places. On the plus side, this did enhance the conversational nature of the book, with scenes flowing naturally and not necessarily chronologically, just as they do when you hear anecdotes from someone in real life.
As for the story itself, I found Kay's search for her birth parents, and her mixed feelings about it, to be quite fascinating. The way she describes her Nigerian birth father in particular is colourful and quite hilarious. His treatment of her - and to an extent, her birth mother's reaction to her - are obviously and understandably sources of some pain. But she is able to find humour, joy and even beauty in every situation. It reinforced my impression that she's a remarkable woman.
And no wonder. Her parents - the Scottish couple who adopted her - are clearly remarkable people, too. I loved that a big part of the book is dedicated to them and their love for Kay - and her's for them. She seems to have inherited her delightful humour from them, with many of their interactions making me laugh out loud, but there were also times when I felt myself getting all misty-eyed due to the things they said or did. One instance that sticks out is when Kay's mother, upon hearing that someone told the young Jackie to be thankful she was adopted by her parents, insisted, "No, Jackie, don't ever let anyone tell you that you should be grateful. It is WE who are grateful."
Red Dust Road is a beautiful tale of family and what makes us who we are. It is about belonging and love and grief and identity. It is about an extraordinary woman from an extraordinary family, full of warmth and humour and love. It is not only one of my favourite books of the year - it's probably up there with my favourite of all time.
Moving, funny, thought-provoking
That isn't really an option for me as I have young children. However I did want to listen whenever I had a spare few minutes!
I thought this book was just brilliant - hilarious in parts, also very moving and incredibly well written. Jackie was superb narrating her own story with her lovely lilting Scottish accent and really made it such an entertaining, enjoyable listen. I am now going to search out her poetry as I think she is fabulous. One of the best books I have downloaded - thank you Audible for a truly wonderful listen.
"Great book, beautifully read"
One of the best autobiographies I've listened too.
Read by the author is her beautiful lyrical Scottish voice.
Can you find love and beauty through searching for your birth parents.
Wonderfully read and written. A story of love and respect for adoptive parents and a search to unravel the mystery of birth parents.
What a great listen....I downloaded this after downloading 'Why be happy when you could be normal '(my favourite book of 2012). It, like Wintersons book examines the journey of adopted people finding their birth parents and all the complex feelings that exist around this. Both sad in some parts and laugh out loud funny in others this is a very intelligent and compassionate book , well worth your audible credit.
"The red dust road by Jackie Kay"
This is Jackie Kay's book about part of her life that she goes back to re visit. She was adopted, the focus of the book is about meeting her birth family, how she does that and her relationship with her feelings for them.
"The narrative of one's life"
I must say I didn't know who Jackie Kay was when I bought this book. I was looking for something with a Scottish accent (being a Spanish speaker, I have develope a strange weakness for some English accents), and the story line seemed appealing. This is a choice I haven't regretted --I can't say the same about Welsh's 'Porno'--. I have since seeked other works by Kay, both in poetry and fiction, and I am becoming a sort of fan.
Red Dust Road is an autobiography. I don't read many of them: they are usually linear and, no matter how interesting the person's life might be, I often find that they try to give an objective account and end up being too unemotional.
Jackie Kay, though, treats her own story as if it was a piece of fiction. She manages the plot masterfully, giving as much or as little information as needed at every stage in order to bring us, gradually, to an 'intuition' of her and the other's characters and state of mind. She doesn't impose her point of view, even though it is her own life, but rather takes us to every spot through different routes, by bits, giving everyone the chance to get a wider picture.
Jackie Kay is, besides, a wonderful narrator. I would listen to anything she read. Please do record more.
Jackie Kay's book was one chosen to read in our book group. When I noticed that it was on Audible and narrated by the author, I felt it was a must. The medium of the spoken word made it an incredibly personal listening experience. It was like a friend (for that is how she seemed after a while) telling you about her life. Her voices, her mother's dry Glaswegian accent, her birth father's Nigerian voice , her Highland aunts, simply brought it to life. Jackie Kay's book is wonderful. A moving, very funny and thought provoking story of her life.
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