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The Attic Child

"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."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

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.

Joanne Owen

Star Books
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