Today I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for The Yellow Room! Find out what I thought of this great novel (well, that gives it away a little!) and learn a little more about author Shelan Rodger’s writing inspiration below, as she tells all about how important the use of location is in her novels…
Set in England and Kenya during the post-election crisis of 2008, a psychological drama that explores the power of secrets to run and ruin our lives.
Chala has grown up in the shadow of a tragic act—as a small child she killed her baby sister in their yellow room. Even now, in her thirties, her state of mind is precarious and both she and her partner struggle with the demons of her past. When a one night stand leaves Chala pregnant, and her beloved adoptive father dies, she decides to go to Kenya and visit the scene of her parents’ deaths. Slowly memories of the events in the yellow room return, the political uprising puts a new meaning on life, and the future can only be faced by making a choice—to deceive or tell the truth.
[Guest Post: “The importance of location – in my life and in my books”]
I was recently described in a local Spanish newspaper as a ‘Nigerian author living in Andalucía,’ which I found amusing as the only thing Nigerian about me really is the fact that I was born there (I left when I was three). But it is true that the question ‘Where are you from?’ is one that I find impossible to answer. My father was born in India and grew up in Kenya where he is buried; my mother, also born in India, still lives in Kenya. When I was three, the family left Nigeria and went to the Northern Territory of Australia; my first school was a radio in the bush, my second was an aboriginal school with two classrooms on an island north of Darwin. When I was eleven, we moved to England. I went to a comprehensive school in Hampshire and then Oxford University where I graduated in French and Spanish. Then nine years in Argentina, followed by another period in the UK and six years in Kenya before moving to Spain in 2011. My professional career has revolved around international education, learning and development, and anti-discrimination.
Probably no surprise then that my writing is haunted by the question of what shapes us and our sense of who we are. How much is our personal identity moulded by the place we grow up or live in – the culture, the landscape, the language? And what happens if we move between different cultures, different landscapes? I don’t really feel English but I cannot tell you where I’m from. In my twitter profile, I define myself as a ‘writer and wilderness lover, with a patchwork life’. Connection with nature is extremely important to me; the need for wilderness is in my blood. So, there is a strange dynamic in my own life: strong emotional connections with certain locations and cultures combined with a sense of belonging to none – or all of them.
Twin Truths is set largely in Argentina and a big chunk of Yellow Room takes place in Kenya. I see Argentina and Kenya almost as characters in the stories. The relationship between the protagonists and the location is key to each story and to the journey of self-discovery for the protagonists in each book.
In Yellow Room, Chala is named after a lake in a remote part of Kenya. She volunteers at an orphanage in Naivasha, where she gets caught up in the turmoil of the post-election violence that killed over a thousand people in 2008. One of the things I wanted to explore with this book was the relationship between the internal world of our own inner stage and the external world, and how this affects our sense of who we are. Kenya – the events, the landscape, the culture, the people – has a profound effect on Chala and the outcome of her own personal story. Kenya is not just a setting but plays a role in the story of who she is and who she becomes.
Argentina has its own story. Buenos Aires in the nineties is a place of forgetting, but the shadow of Argentina’s dictatorship lingers. There is a kind of collective amnesia about the 30,000 disappeared, a gentle collusion almost everywhere to forget and move on, in the face of a reality too horrific to counter. In Twin Truths, Jenny’s journey too is one of forgetting, trying to move on. She does not really connect with the culture at first, using it like sex as a means of escape, trying it on like a piece of clothing, treating therapy as a game. But Argentina becomes part of her own story and there is one place that plays a pivotal role: Iguazu falls. There is a point where the falls converge in a bottomless crush of water called La Garganta del Diablo, a place that connects with Jenny’s own memory. ‘I was being sucked down into the depths of the ocean, no air, down and down into the devil’s throat.’
If we are what we eat, we are probably also where we live…Well, I tried that sentence out in Google and discovered this is exactly what someone called Jeff Speck, author of Suburban Nation, said at a conference about urban planning! Location, location, location…I hope you enjoy your travels in my books…
– Shelan Rodger
This is a beautifully written book which really made me think. I felt like it had a bit of everything – human relationships, family, some drama, travel and an element of surprise/ twists. All together these create a wonderfully crafted blend of tragedy, secrets and, through it all, hope.
I felt that the characters in Yellow Room are really convincing and well developed; though I didn’t agree with everything Chala did, I really felt for her. It made me stop and think about how much blame you can really pin on a child, and how difficult it must be for adults around her – especially Emma’s parents – to deal with what’s happened. It also deals with how one decision – whether to tell someone the whole ‘truth’ or not – can affect so many parts of a person’s life.
The travel aspect was interesting, and we saw how Chala’s personal demons eased a bit by being so far away, but at points I just wanted her to go home so I could see what would happen with her ‘situation’ (don’t want to give too much away!).
I absolutely love the way this book makes you think one way about someone – Chala’s husband, for example – but as the book reveals more your opinion changes and morphs with Shelan’s brilliant writing.
Thought provoking, surprising and emotional, Yellow Room is definitely a must-read!
Many thanks to The Dome Press for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto the blog tour!
FOLLOW THE TOUR…