Paula Gruben's Reviews > Killing Karoline

Killing Karoline by Sara-Jayne King
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it was amazing
bookshelves: reviewed, long-form-reviews

** spoiler alert ** Like Trevor Noah, Baby Karoline was "born a crime." In her case, she was the result of an affair between a white woman and a black man in apartheid-era South Africa, when "illicit carnal intercourse" between the two race groups was punishable by law.

Instead of risking imprisonment, and the baby being sent to live in a 'Coloured' children's home, the birth mother and her husband - to whom she confesses her infidelity once it becomes clear the child is not genetically his - arrange for Karoline to be placed for adoption in England. They concoct a story that she has a rare disease which requires specialised treatment only available at a specific children's hospital in London. When they return to SA, without her, they tell everyone that she died in the UK. Meanwhile, Baby Karoline is adopted by a white couple who already have a mixed race adopted son. They change her name to Sarah Jane.

SJ's childhood in rural England is, for the most part, pretty idyllic. But when she is 10, and her brother 13, her parents split up, and her father starts dating, then moves in with, the family's cleaning lady, who shares a first name with Sarah Jane. When she is 11, SJ changes the spelling of her name to Sara-Jayne. (And eventually her adopted surname Kirk back to her original surname at birth, King.)

When he is 15, SJ's brother runs away from home. Shortly thereafter he puts himself into voluntary care, and ends up in a children's home in South London. Around this time SJ starts cutting. She takes her first overdose when she is 13. Her father writes her a letter telling her she is an attention seeker, and she never sees him again.

At the age of 14, SJ discovers a letter written to her by her birth mother, hidden away by her adoptive mother. The letter chronicles the events leading up to the birth of SJ and the reasons why she was placed for adoption.

At 18, SJ moves out of her mother's home and in with a 30-year-old divorcé. Shortly thereafter she receives news that her brother has committed suicide. He was just 22. Her father doesn't attend the funeral.

When she is 21, and with her adoptive mother's blessing, SJ goes in search of and makes contact with her birth mother. But the encounter does not go according to plan, and SJ is left with more questions than answers.

In the years that follow, SJ completes a law degree, followed by a masters degree in journalism. She also develops an eating disorder. When she moves over to Dubai for work, she develops an alcohol addiction. A year later, at the age of 26, she leaves the desert for a rehab centre in South Africa, the land of her birth. It is here that she finally seems to find a sense of belonging, helped in part by meeting her younger maternal half-brother, and various extended family members.

There are certain parts of the story that, as a fellow adoptee, really struck a nerve. SJ's brother's suicide was particularly distressing for me. "Statistics show that adopted people are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adoptees." - Keyes, et al., Pediatrics online, Sept. 9, 2013. Had this broken soul received the professional help he so clearly needed when he started acting out as a teenager, things could've turned out very differently. I believe the system failed him.

I was also outraged by the social worker's refusal to "deliver any further presents or written communication to Sarah or her parents" beyond SJ's first birthday, telling her birth mother that "there can be no benefit to anyone if attempts to continue this tenuous contact are maintained through the years ahead." In my opinion, this social worker failed not only SJ, but her birth mother AND her adoptive mother, the latter of whom had to help SJ glue back together the pieces of her shattered soul in the decades that followed.

Arguably the most gut-wrenching part of the book is the birth mother's response to her daughter, her own flesh and blood, when SJ initiates contact as an adult. So cold-hearted! What a missed opportunity for redemption!

This is a poignant story, written in elegant, evocative prose. The book definitely has one of the most powerful titles and blurbs I've come across in a long time, and I love the full colour photo section. Sara-Jayne ought to be extremely proud of the beautiful, accomplished woman she has become, despite the barrage of personal challenges she has had to face. My only complaint was not learning more about her birth father, & hearing his side of the story. Otherwise, a stunning read.
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Reading Progress

September 4, 2017 – Started Reading
September 4, 2017 – Shelved
September 5, 2017 –
page 82
September 5, 2017 – Finished Reading
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: reviewed
August 11, 2019 – Shelved as: long-form-reviews

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Omphile Raleie So my next read after Dancing the Death Drill for book review with the Bookwormers ladies is this one - because of your review! Close off the year with a BANG!

Paula Gruben Nice one, Omphile!! Enjoy 😊

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