My Name Is Why
Mr B's review
Poet Lemn Sissay was taken from his Ethiopian mother and shovelled into the dire British care system in the 1970’s. He grew up lonely and bullied. He didn’t even know his real birth name – given to him by the mother he’d never met – until he was 17, when the files exposing the state’s suppression of his true identity were opened up. This is his story, told in beautiful prose. It is a tale to make you angry, yet rejoice that Sissay battled through adversity to become the poet and man he is today.
THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
A BOOK OF THE YEAR IN THE TIMES, GUARDIAN, DAILY TELEGRAPH, SUNDAY TIMES, OBSERVER, NEW STATESMAN, METRO and THE HERALD
‘A quest for understanding, for home, for answers’ Matt Haig
How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? This story is how.
At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster 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.
This is Lemn’s story: a story of neglect and determination, misfortune and hope, cruelty and triumph.
Sissay reflects on his childhood, self-expression and Britishness, and in doing so explores the institutional care system, race, family and the meaning of home. Written with all the lyricism and power you would expect from one of the nation’s best-loved poets, this moving, frank and timely memoir is the result of a life spent asking questions, and a celebration of the redemptive power of creativity.
A lyrical, painful and yet hope-filled memoir . . . Shattering, light-searching * * Observer * * Searing . . . Unputdownable . . . My Name Is Why is authentic and beautiful, a potential game-changer in public attitudes to children raised in care. It’s about bureaucratic cruelty and what happens when love is absent. Don’t miss it * * The Times * * An extraordinary story * * Sunday Times * * The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s not made up. This actually happened. It is an incredible story — BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH I have never read a memoir like it. A blistering account of a young life in the hands of neglectful authorities. It’s a quest for understanding, for home, for answers. Grips like a thriller. Astounding — MATT HAIG The great triumph of this work comes from its author’s determination to rail against what he rightly diagnoses as this institutionally endorsed disremembering of black and marginalised experience. It is a searing and unforgettable re-creation of the most brutal of beginnings — Michael Donkor * * Guardian * * Utterly devastating and beautiful . . . Breathtakingly written — DOLLY ALDERTON This is a deeply moving memoir that speaks with incredible poeticism. A staggering expose of colonial theft and abandonment, this book is grippingly heartbreaking — DAVID LAMMY A fascinating memoir . . . So powerful — ELIF SHAFAK The engaging transfiguring truth of My Name Is Why is like a baptism of truth – leaving you washed clean of lies and reborn in love. Profound in its kindness, intelligence and unselfish heart, this book is important and unputdownable — JESSICA HYNES Searing . . . heartbreaking . . . Sissay has given us a blistering condemnation of the ‘care’ system – and his powerful voice asking ‘why?’ is raised on behalf of all children who have been its victims * * Daily Mail * * Remarkable . . . Sissay puts forward his side of his life story. It is sensational stuff told with an elegant restraint that leaves the reader feeling some of the hurt, bewilderment and anger that he has endured . . . My Name Is Why is a memoir of identity, race, neglect, family and the importance of home. It is also a testament to Sissay himself and his ability to survive, and later thrive. Above all, is it his redemptive chance to ensure that at long last the voice of the child he was is heard * * Sunday Times * * No Government Inquiry could ever expose the inhumanity of our nation’s care system more effectively than this memoir. The evidence is all here. I wept at the sheer monumental cruelty of it. The racism. The crushing, degrading absence of respect and encouragement. The simple yearning for love and a sense of self. Lemn Sissay is a triumph of human survival. Shame on all of us that this happens in our midst — HELENA KENNEDY QC Inspirational . . . My Name Is Why shows how resilience, determination and courage can be used to drive yourself forward to make a difference — FLOELLA BENJAMIN A brave and beautiful book — ROBERT WEBB This book is a terrifying, saddening, anger-making read. I hope millions of people will read it — MICHAEL ROSEN I worked for years with children in the care system, I trained social workers and foster parents. I thought I knew the worst. I was wrong. What Lemn Sissay has done is to tell the truth, not only for himself but for the thousands of adults and children who have been shunted around, who have had their needs ignored, their rights trampled on and have been overlooked. Following a heartbroken child, full of yearning and deserving of love, when his time in care brought anything but that, is not for the faint-hearted. But there are people (and I’m one of them) who will be cheering on every page because of Lemn’s bravery and resilience in telling this story, in providing data, documents, signatures, pages and pages of evidence giving us strange comfort, a deep-seated cheer of recognition and truth. And Lemn Sissay the person shines through it all, his unflinching honesty, his attention to detail, his humour and bravery. Thank God for him — KIT DE WAAL Searing . . . My Name Is Why is really a story about love – and its lack . . . The most astonishing thing about Sissay’s story is that he has become the man he is * * Sunday Times * * If you ever thought poetry and song lyrics were the stuff of teenage angst, think again. For Lemn Sissay, they were a lifeline. Amidst the collage of reports, letters, emails, lies, distortions and concealments, his love of language sings. An unsettling, exquisite, searingly intelligent quest for identity — PATIENCE AGBABI Everybody should read My Name Is Why – utterly devastating and yet uplifting – you find yourself humbled by the spirit that is Lemn Sissay — JACKIE KAY
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