When thirteen-year-old Zuri begins cutting herself, psychologist Ana is called in to help. Is the troubled girl trying to relieve the tension of being black in a predominantly white private school? And how healthy is Zuri’s relationship with Helen, the white single mom who adopted her?
Struggling to soften Zuri’s defences during the course of the therapy, Ana must piece together the puzzles of both Helen and her daughter, including the truth of what happened to Zuri’s biological mother. But reckless, alcoholic Ana carries within her an old trauma of her own. In Susan Newham-Blake’s moving novel, two women, equally damaged by the past and its secrets, discover that healing sometimes lies in unexpected places.
You can find my review here.
I had a chance to ask Susan a few questions about the book . . .
Tell us a little bit about how “As If Born to You” came to be. When did you first get the idea to write it? How did everything come together from there?
After my first non-fiction novel Making Finn I wanted to write a fiction novel and originally wrote a story about a woman who gets handed a baby at a petrol station. The idea just popped into my head. Once it was written, however, I was not happy with it and it was never published. In the meantime I also adopted a little girl and so As if Born to You is an attempt at re-writing the original story and exploring the cross-racial adoptees experience.
What are you hoping people gain from reading As if Born to You?
I hope readers find it thought-provoking, I hope it opens up conversations about difficult topics like cross-racial adoption, what it means to be family, but ultimately I hope readers are entertained and moved.
Is the book based on personal experience?
The book does explore deeply personal themes that have affected me during my life, themes of abandonment – both physical and emotional, race, family and love. Some of Ana’s childhood is inspired by my own childhood memories of my close relationship with my nanny and her son. My daughter was two years old when I wrote the book and so I was very immersed and interested in the adoptee experience. However, the actual events in the book, as well as the characters, are completely fictional.
What were some of the challenges you encountered during the writing process?
The biggest challenge is finding the time to write. I have three children and a full-time job. It’s a constant juggle between all the commitments and finding twenty minutes here and there to get the manuscript completed. I always say I don’t believe in writer’s block because I don’t have the time.
I really enjoyed the book but the ending was a bit of a challenge for me. I think maybe I expected more, was that intentional?
Yes, the ending was intentional and I wrote it quite early on during my writing process. It’s difficult to talk too much about it without giving too much away but it did feel like it was the most plausible and likely ending, though I know it came as a shock to some readers. I also think that, for me, the process of cross-racial adoption has opened up more questions than providing answers and so perhaps this is where the sense of the ending came from. The book is an exploration, a seeking to understand, as opposed to providing answers and clarity. The emotions evoked by the ending are feelings that can be provoked by adoption in general, emotions that are never really neatly or easily resolvable.
Who are some authors that have inspired you?
Jeanette Winterson. Sarah Waters. Yewande Omotoso. Meg vandermerwe. Toni Morrison. Elizabeth Strout. Jacqui Kay.
What are your top three favourite books of all time?
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Oranges are not the only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson and My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.
What are your future plans?
I would like to continue writing. I am currently working on another novel set in Cape Town. I hope that I continue to write and get published for many years to come. Writing and creating has been one of my life’s greatest joys.
Until next time