The title of Carolyn Slaughters tenth book is taken from a poem by
Sylvia Plath: 'What I want back is what I was/Before the bed,
before the knife.' The quote is disturbingly appropriate. Not only
does it reflect the authors own suffering, there are also parallels
between her life and Plaths. Both were emotionally scarred as
children, both became severely depressed as a result, and both
attempted suicide. Plath, of course, eventually succeeded Slaughter
didnt. Instead she wrote this painfully honest account of her
childhood in Africa. Several layers make up this richly complex
book. On one level, it is a portrait of Africa during the last days
of the British Empire, as white colonialists struggled to retain
their grip on an increasingly rebellious nation. On another level,
it is about a family that tore itself apart as it struggled to cope
with events seemingly beyond its control. But mostly it is about a
little girl battling for spiritual survival against her violent,
abusive father and her depressive mother. Puzzled by her mothers
detachment, Slaughter found solace in the beauty of the African
landscape, which she describes passionately in vivid and exquisite
detail. Poignantly, she recalls how the river 'became the source of
maternal comfort and peace'; 'Id always loved itbecause Id nothing
else to love'. Years later, when reading Wuthering Heights, she
empathized with Emily Bront?s sense of union with her own Yorkshire
moors. Slaughters story is a remarkable one, and her evocative and
elegant prose makes compelling reading. Prepare to be shocked but
prepare also to marvel at Slaughters courage and determination as
she finally faces up to the full horror of what happened to her in
Africa and, unlike Plath, eventually manages to find some inner
peace. (Kirkus UK)
What happened to me affected all of us – my mother, my father, my sisters and me: we all fell apart under the horror of it, and we all tried to pretend that there was no horror.
Growing up in a remote British protectorate (now Botswana) in the heart of the Kalahari Desert, Carolyn Slaughter was inspired by the stark beauty of her childhood home. All too soon, this magnificent and isolated landscape would become a refuge for a six-year-old girl with nowhere to turn. Neither her mother, doomed by depression and guilt, nor her sister could shield her from the most terrible of violations. In the end she would learn not only how to survive but how to save her soul.
In prose unforgettable for its lyric beauty and subtle irony, prize-winning novelist Carolyn Slaughter tells the story of a family that destroyed itself from within, offering us powerful lessons about survival and about the triumph of love over hate.
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