Blog Tour – Yellow Room by Shelan Rodger – author guest post and review

By | July 21, 2015

Haunted by a tragic childhood accident, Chala’s whole life has been moulded by guilt and secrets. After the death of her stepfather, who took his own secrets to the grave, Chala re-evaluates her life and volunteers at a Kenyan orphanage, where she gets caught up in the turmoil of the post-election violence that took over a thousand lives in 2008. But, although she can walk away from Kenya, she cannot walk away from herself… With a poignant insight into Kenya’s recent crisis, Yellow Room is a drama that explores the power of secrets to run, and ruin, our lives.

I’d like to thank Cutting Edge Press for my uncorrected proof copy of Yellow Room (now available in paperback and for kindle), the opportunity to be an early reader, and for inviting me to be part of their first blog tour. 

My thoughts on this wonderful book follow, but I’d first like to welcome Shelan Rodger to Being Anne, talking about the importance of location in her life and books. Welcome Shelan…

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’treally 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 both Jenny and Chala.

Argentina and Kenya have their own stories. 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.’

In Yellow Room, Chala is named after the lake on the cover of the book. 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. 

If we are what we eat, we are probably also where we live…Well I just put that into Google and discovered that this is exactly what someone called Jeff Speck, author of Suburban Nation, has recently said at a conference about urban planning! Location, location, location…I hope you enjoy your travels in my books…

Thank you Shelan – wishing you every success…

My thoughts

I have a copy of Twin Truths nestling on a shelf somewhere (in very good company), but this was my first time reading Shelan Rodger’s work. not sure quite what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t such a level of beauty in the writing, coupled with acute observations about life that can pierce you to the heart. The characters are very real and (some are) very flawed and damaged: however the causes of their frailty are more about a perception of reality, and how that can shape you as a person. There are many things about this lovely book that will long stay with me – it’s full of the most vivid images, both intimate and on a larger scale, but perhaps most striking is the layering of secrets – lies, deception, self-delusion, misleading others…

The writing is effortless and elegant, quite beautiful in its precise selection of words but surprisingly easy and comfortable to read – except in its subject matter at times. There is love in this book, sometimes evident (I adored Chala’s relationship with her father in all its phases), sometimes difficult to sustain, often difficult to show. The Kenyan scenes are sometimes harrowing and difficult to read, but also so vividly described that you can feel and smell the tension, and appreciate the stark contrasts between exceptional beauty and desperate ugliness.

I guess it’s quite unusual to single out for praise the postscript to the book which sets out its inspiration. It pulled together my thoughts after I’d reached the end – around secrets, “spaces in togetherness”, the issue of identity, the Kenyan backdrop. It also includes a stunning sentence that sums up the book perfectly:

Secrets are like scars that heal over a wound that never quite disappears.

This is a book that defies categorisation, and it was certainly quite a departure from my usual reads – but I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to experience it.

Shelan’s life is a patchwork of different cultures. Born in Nigeria, she grew up among the Tiwi, an aboriginal community in Australia, and moved to England at the age of eleven. After graduating in Modern Languages from Oxford, she travelled to Argentina, where she spent nine years teaching and setting up a language school. Another chapter in England was followed by six years in Kenya, where she got involved in learning and development, with an emphasis on anti-discrimination. She now lives in Spain, working in international education – and writing.