This devastatingly brilliant novel represents forgotten Black British history through the soul-stirring story of a Congolese boy torn from his family in the early 20th-century, and his connection to a woman in 1990s England.
Lola Jaye’s The Attic Child is a truly exceptional novel. An utterly immersive dual-narrative experience that will break your heart as it lays bare atrocious abuses of power and privilege. An illuminating story that enriches understanding of Black British history with tremendous courage and storytelling verve – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
In 1903, following the murder of his father at the hands of Belgian oppressors, 11-year-old Dikembe leaves his Congolese village with an English explorer, Mr Richard. The youngest of five siblings, Dikembe’s beloved mama saw this as a means of protecting him from the oppressors, a way of offering him a future. On arrival, Dikembe poignantly states, “Walking into that house was the beginning of an ending that would change everything about my life forever. Starting with my name”.
Renamed Celestine, he assumes he’s here to work, but the servants address him as “Master Celestine”, and he’s told he will live a “splendid existence” as Mr Richard’s companion. But that’s soon undercut when Richard declares, “You are my prized possession from the Congo! The most valuable, and one I will make sure is looked after and taken care of to the best of my abilities”. Though ostensibly free, Celestine is powerless, a possession. While people heed Richard’s incorrect accounts of Africa, “no one ever saw who I was or what my life had been before”. And, though afforded the privilege of a fine education, Celestine’s loneliness and desperation to return home are painfully palpable, and his situation worsens when Richard dies.
The novel’s second powerful narrative shifts to 1993, when 30-year-old Lowra inherits Richard’s former house. With him generally esteemed as a great explorer and philanthropist, selling the house is subject to review by heritage bodies, but for Lowra, it’s a place of painful memories. Like Celestine, she was confined in the house as a child, which was when she discovered an old porcelain doll, a beaded claw necklace and writings on the wall.
As Lowra states while deep into her quest to discover who the objects belonged to, “we were two children born in different centuries; lost and alive yet connected by a set of experiences I wouldn’t wish on my worse enemy”. The discoveries she makes expose horrifying abuses of power, but also tremendous dignity in the face of such abuses, a sense of pride and justice, and a man who devoted his life to empowering others through education and employment. Sweeping, haunting, and deeply affecting, this really is outstanding.
Two children trapped in the same attic, almost a century apart, bound by a secret.
1907: Twelve-year-old Celestine spends most of his time locked in an attic room of a large house by the sea. Taken from his homeland and treated as an unpaid servant, he dreams of his family in Africa even if, as the years pass, he struggles to remember his mother's face, and sometimes his real name . . .
Decades later, Lowra, a young orphan girl born into wealth and privilege, will find herself banished to the same attic. Lying under the floorboards of the room is an old porcelain doll, an unusual beaded claw necklace and, most curiously, a sentence etched on the wall behind an old cupboard, written in an unidentifiable language. Artefacts that will offer her a strange kind of comfort, and lead her to believe that she was not the first child to be imprisoned there . . .
Lola Jaye has created a hauntingly powerful, emotionally charged and unique dual-narrative novel about family secrets, love and loss, identity and belonging, seen through the lens of Black British History in The Attic Child.
|Publication date:||28th April 2022|
|Publisher:||Macmillan an imprint of Pan Macmillan|
|Primary Genre||Historical fiction|
Closing date: 05/06/2022
An incredibly important book giving breath to voices we sadly seldom hear, Lola Jaye's The Attic Child is a beautifully crafted, compelling story crossing continents and time which will undoubtedly break your heart but also make it sing. -- Mike Gayle
The Attic Child is an impressive feat of imagination, and a great example of how one photograph can inspire a whole world. The interlinked stories of two children moved and upset me in all the right ways. This is important storytelling about issues of race and privilege and abuse, and a book that will stay with me for a long time. -- Tracy Chevalier
The Attic Child could be Lola's best book yet. Her writing is on another level, with characters and a story that grab you from the first page and don't let go until the very end. Just brilliant. -- Dorothy Koomson
I was definitely in tears by the end! There is so much to say about this story. Lola Jaye has given us such a creative way of examining privilege, identity, trauma and whiteness in both eras. -- Afua Hirsch
A powerful and emotional journey, that will break your heart and put it back together again. -- Lisa Jewell
Heart-breaking and timely - Lola Jaye's first epic historical novel is an emotional roller coaster of a ride -- Trisha Ashley
An evocative, emotional, beautifully written and captivating novel. -- Rowan Coleman
strong, memorable characters and an unputdownable story . . . Powerfully affecting -- Gill Paul
as educational as it was exceptional. I was nowhere near ready for it to end. It was heartbreakingly sad yet life affirming and full of hope. One of the most important books you'll read all year. -- John Marrs, bestselling author of the Netflix sensation, The One
With The Attic Child, Lola Jaye has created something truly special. An epic, historical novel that is as informative and fascinating about a period in history, as it is deeply moving. Above all, it's a beautiful testament to the strength of the human spirit. I've been telling everyone I know about it. -- Katy Regan
an ambitious novel carried out to perfection. This epic tale had me utterly engrossed from first page to last. It's heart-breaking yet powerful and inspiring and so, so wonderful. Dikembe is a hero I will never forget -- Tracy Rees, Bestselling author of Amy Snow and The Rose Garden
A powerful and timely book, compelling, heart-breaking yet hopeful and very, very special. -- Alex Brown