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My Name is Why

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  6,649 ratings  ·  640 reviews
At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in an adopted family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth. Here Sissay recounts his life story ...more
Hardcover, 200 pages
Published April 4th 2019 by Canongate Books Ltd.
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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  6,649 ratings  ·  640 reviews

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Jane Gregg
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve really liked and admired the strong, pure focus of Lemn Sissay’s voice as a poet and a broadcaster at large every time I’ve had the opportunity to read or hear it. In this incendiary memoir of his childhood at the hands of the Authority (love how he personalised this depersonalised figure in the book) in Britain, 1967-1985, it could not be more muscular. This man is exactly my age (he’s 2 months older). What he experienced in his life as a young child completely alone in the world, stolen b ...more
Tom Mooney
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
If ever there was a book to expose the failures and pointlessness of governments and local authorities, it was this one. This book made me fucking angry. The treatment of Sissay during his 17 years in care is an absolute fucking disgrace and everyone (save a couple of heroes he meets along the way) should be utterly ashamed of their involvement.

Sissay was left to swim against a tide of abuse, rejection and red tape, his only weapons his thirst for rebellion and obsession with Bob Marley.

The thru
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Fantastic but heartbreaking read, devastating account of the treatment of children and systemic failures the care system in the UK.
"I am British. But I am also a first-generation Ethiopian. Ethiopia is not what we think of in this country. It is a profound place. I had to unlearn everything I had learnt about Africa and everything I had ever learnt about black people." 

My Name is Why is a scathing indictment of the British care system in the '80s. The same system that still fails many children to this very day. 

Lemn gives us a harrowing account of how his childhood was impacted by the multitude of failures and neglect by pe
“My mother is from the Amhara people of Ethiopia. It is a tradition of the Amhara to leave messages in the first name of the child. In Amharic the name Lemn means Why?”

The poet/playwright grew up thinking his name was Norman Greenwood. He was simply the oldest child of a white family near Wigan. Though they never formally adopted him, the Greenwoods were his long-term foster parents for 12 years. By adolescence he was perceived as being too difficult – for acts of rebellion normal for his age bu
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well I finished Lemn Sissay’s My Name Is Why today and immediately fell apart. I grieved this book. I grieved this childhood. A memoir about his theft in infancy from his Ethiopian mother’s care in a “home” for young mothers in rural England, through his failed white foster placement, and then through various boy’s “homes” until his own ingenuity springs him from the system, this is really a memoir about a beautiful boy who sows poetry from seeds of racism, and neglect, and abuse, and torture. T ...more
B Schrodinger
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Lemn tells an autobiography of his youth where he was placed into UK care soon after birth and fostered. The biography is supported with first hand reports that Lemn recovered from government files written at various times when he was a child.

He tells a sorrowful story of being let down by his foster family and the government agency. The beginning for me was fascinating, but as the book progressed, the reports took on more importance and it seemed like I was reading red tape rather than experie
Alice (Married To Books)
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2020, bame
I actually read My Name Is Why a few days back, but I really needed some time to fully digest my thoughts before typing up this review. This book will leave you angry, frustrated yet interested all at the same time. The shocking true events of Sissay himself being adopted and part of the social care system until adulthood and then learning the reality, the bigger picture that had been shielded from him all his life. Told in short chapters with images of social care reports included, it's a memoi ...more
Natalie Richards
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-book
Lemn, I cheer your courage, your intelligence, your bravery, your voice.
Sarah McHugh
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really recommend this book. Very powerful but not an easy read. Raises so many questions about identity, family dynamics, the times, unchallenged everyday racism, as well as humanity and the lack of humanity
May 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately, this was quite a tedious read. I really did not like the way Sissay decided to format the book, with most of the narrative being told in social work/government entries, with little-to-no exposition made on Sissay's part; almost like inserting a quote in an essay and that being the sentence, with no analysis.

The story is tragic and should be told, I think I would have preferred the story to be completely narrative. I imagine I would have connected more and been able to visualise h
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A story that must be heard, no matter how painful. We seem to live in a society where blaming the unfortunate offers absolution for the conscience and justifies an underfunded, under-resourced care system that is far from ideal. Perhaps this book will change some minds.
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
How Lemn Sissay survived and turned out to be the man he is today is due only to the human spirit refusing to give in to the horrors heaped upon him as a youth.

This is yet another horrifying chronicle of those in charge of taking care of disadvantaged children failing in the most monstrous manner. And might I mention that this takes place in Great Britain the 1960’s, not the 1860’s.

In this case the original foster parents are the worst. How Christian people could treat a child in their care in
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
'Hurt people hurt people' is one of many memorably lines in this heartbreaking book. It tells the story of the theft of a boy from his unmarried mother and his subsequent fostering by a family unsuited to his needs. It's noit about scars, as he says, it's about his astonishing ability to survive. V hard to write a review without spoilers but his name is changed, his Ethiopian heritage denied, his character oppressed. It's a tough rea din parts but worth it. Excelelnt use of official materials in ...more
Devastating indictment of foster care, adoption, racism, and treatment centers especially for black children.

However, the construction of the book was terrible. Much of the book was photocopies of reports from his files (and then retyped). This stopped any narrative flow. I would have appreciated more story in his voice and files placed in footnotes or appendices or used more sparingly.
Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)
An incredibly moving memoir about the failure and systemic racism of the care system in Britain a few decades ago.
Beth Bonini
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mental-health, memoir
A fourteen-year old boy should never have to ask the questions Who is my mother? and Who are my family? These were not easy questions to formulate in the mind or the mouth because the question comes with others . . . What did I do to deserve this?

This memoir is poet Lemn Sissay's fact-finding mission into his own past. In 2015, after a 'thirty-year campaign' to be allowed to see his own records, Sissay finally discovers how and why he became a ward of the State and the official record of his
Stephen Goldenberg
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lemn Sissay’s extraordinary and distressing story of his life in a foster home and then in local authority care is brought vividly alive by his extensive use of the original documents recording exactly what happened to him - documents that he was only recently given access to.
I read it after watching the BBC Omnibus documentary on Lemn Sissay and I’d advise anybody intending to read his book to watch the TV programme because it updates his story by showing his remarkable achievements as a poet,
Anna Dawson
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
A compelling and powerful memoir which reflects the resilience required to be ‘Other’ in a system that does not cater to you. Sissay’s beautiful poetry is interspersed throughout each chapter and the use of social workers’ case notes is very effective.
My Name Is Why is Lemn Sissay's poetic, heartbreaking, scathing look at the foster care system in the UK and how he was failed by it time and time again. Sissay's mother was an Ethiopian student who studying abroad at a university in the UK when she became pregnant. Due to circumstances beyond her control she was unable to care for him right away and he was put in temporary foster care. He could never be adopted though because she has refused to sign her rights away. So begins the memoir which e ...more
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you can read this book and NOT get angry whilst doing so, then you’re a better person than me. My Name is Why is Lemn Sissay’s true story of his life in the English Care system. His Ethiopian mother handed her son into the care of Social Services whilst she finished her nursing course, only to have him permanently taken away and put in to long term foster care. She wrote letters begging for his return from after his birth, all to no avail. This was the start of a catalogue of failures for Lem ...more
Sally (whatsallyreadnext)
Oct 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
I hadn't heard much about Lemn Sissay's life before reading his memoir My Name is Why but I decided to buy the book as I had seen it a few times via bookstagram. Bookstagram does inspire most of my reading choices these days!

In My Name is Why, Lemn Sissay recounts his story of how he spent his childhood and teenage years living with a foster family before being transferred from one care home to another, as well as the cruelty of the social care system in Britain. Lemn's life story is told via of
Les McFarlane
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In this book I read of places I know. Streets I have probably walked. Places & times that are part of me. Rhythms of life that I understand. Turns of phrases I hear & use. But, I read a story that I have never known. Anger and hurt that I have never considered. Rejection and hopelessness that I was too comfortable to see.
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, non-fiction
A heart wrenching and life affirming memoir from one of Britain’s greatest poets.

This popped up on my library audio app for free, and I’m so glad I did. The writing was exquisite whilst the story was devastating.
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book over the last few days...about Lemn Sissay's time in "care" in the UK when he was growing up. So heartbreaking, but amazing how well he's come out the other side (renowned poet). Unfortunately not the case for many other kids. ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it liked it
I’d give this a decent to strong 3* review and certainly recommend. Very heartbreaking and damning dive into the foster care and social services system throughout the 70s and 80s.

There were lots of beautiful passages and I felt like I was inside Lemn’s head throughout the book. The archival documents were effectively used to construct the book; seeing people in Lemn’s life controlling and shaping his future without his control was a really strange (and awful? aggravating?) reading experience.

Amy Perera
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I saw this book in Waterstones and I was so moved by the title and blurb of the book, I had to read it 📖
“My mother is from the Amhara people of Ethiopia. It is a tradition of the Amhara people to leave messages in the first name of the child. In Amharic the name Lemn means Why.”
At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in an adopted family followed by six years in a various care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was L
Emily Carter-Dunn
How good is this book? I completed it in a day. I have never done that with any other audiobook.

My Name is Why is the account of Lemn Sissay's childhood, from being taken from his unwed Ethiopian mother and placed with a devout Christian family, to their rejection at the age of 12 and placement in a foster home.

Using a mix of Sissay's own recollections and letters, reports and notes from his files whilst in care, Sissay carefully constructs a powerful and emotional memoir.

This memoir made me so
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: uk, memoir, social-issues
4.5 stars. British-Ethiopian poet Lemn Sissay was in the UK care system during his entire childhood. In this memoir, he exposes the fundamentally uncaring nature of this system and how he was shunted about from institution to institution. His initial foster parents were irresponsible and callous in their emotional treatment of him. While his social worker seems to have genuinely cared for him and understood his struggles, he wasn't a match against a broader system that displays little understand ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was captivated and heartbroken by this memoir, and I’m extremely interested to read more from this new-to-me author. ⁣

This text blends Sissay’s own recollections of his upbringing in foster care and group homes with artifacts from his file at length obtained from Social Services, laying bare the contrast between the life he experienced and the one that appears in the documentation. Told all his life that his mother didn’t want him, he learns that she was kept from reuniting with him, even as
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Lemn Sissay MBE (born 21 May 1967), is a British author and broadcaster.

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“Hurt people hurt people.” 1 likes
“A fourteen-year-old boy should never have to ask the questions Who is my mother? and Who are my family? These were not easy questions to formulate in the mind or the mouth because the question comes with others . . . What did I do to deserve this?” 1 likes
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