The Attic Child by Lola Jaye #TheAtticChild @LolaJaye @panmacmillan @RandomTTours #BlogTour

The Attic Child by Lola Jaye

Originally published: 28 April 2022

Author: Lola Jaye

Published by: Pan Macmillan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 480 pages

Reading dates: 27-30 July 2022

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 . . .

The book begins in Africa in 1903, in an area we later learn is the Congo where we meet 10 year old Dikembe who lives with his parents and brothers unaware of the Belgian invasion of the area and the atrocities committed. Not long after his father is murdered, Dikembe is taken from his home by an English explorer Richard Babbington. Initially believing he is leaving home for just a short time, Dikembe is apprehensive but soon comes to tentatively enjoy the luxuries of an English home, the food and the education. Renamed Celestine by Babbington, he soon comes to realise his stay may be longer than he thought, especially when Babbington tells him his village has been destroyed and there was no sign of his family. When Babbington dies when Celestine is just 12 years old, distant relatives move in and Celestine looses his status as an educated and looked after child and instead becomes an ill-treated servant, often locked away in the attic whenever he displeases his new “family”.

In the early 1990s we meet Lowra, a young woman who has a difficult past, having spent time in a psychiatric unit, who keeps to herself but is lonely. On learning of the death of her stepmother, she reluctantly returns to the house she grew up in to sort out the details. It is then we learn she was locked away in the same attic after the death of her father. While imprisoned there she found some old artefacts including an unusual beaded necklace which she believes to have African origin and being curious, makes contact with an historian called Monty and together they start to piece together the puzzle of Celestine and what happened to him.

Back in the early 20th century, it wasn’t uncommon for black children to be taken from their homes in Africa by European explorers, and used as companions or objects of interest. These pictures of Ndugu M’Hali inspired the story of The Attic Child, and indeed Celestine and Babbington pose in similar photos in the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story that featured a shocking price of British history that I knew nothing about. Hearing from both Celestine and Lowra, I loved discovering what happened to Celestine (even though it wasn’t always pleasant reading) and the investigations that Lowra and Monty took to find out about his life. I actually really liked it was set in the early 1990s before the internet and they had to rely on experts, phone calls and microfiche in public libraries to learn his story. And it was lovely to see Lowra change from a young woman coasting through life to someone who can start to heal and her burgeoning friendship with Monty. Monty himself finds the discoveries about his people difficult and we see him treated with racism, in everyday society, something which shocks Lowra.

A long book for me but one which I couldn’t put down and read really quickly, this was an engaging, moving and informative novel from Lola Jaye which I thoroughly recommend!

Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to Pan Macmillan for my proof copy. Check out what other reviewers are saying on their blogs below

About the author:

Lola Jaye

Lola Jaye is an author, registered psychotherapist and speaker who has penned six novels and a self-help book.

She was born and raised in London, England and has lived in Nigeria and the United States. She currently works as a psychotherapist. She has written for, CNN, HuffPost, Essence and the BBC and also speaks on issues of mental health and racism. She has also appeared on national television, most recently discussing Covid 19 and mental wellbeing. Lola once gave a presentation on imposter syndrome – a subject close to her heart, because at times she’s unable to believe she’s an actual writer!


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