Book review: Killing Karoline

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Killing Karoline by Sara-Jayne King, published August 2017 by Jacana/MF Books

I read this dramatic memoir a while back. Out of the MF Books/Jacana stable, it is a searing transcontinental, cross-racial memoir with a series of grim and bizarre twists that, true to life writing, is way stranger than fiction.

It kicks off with little Karoline being born, in 1980, under apartheid’s twisted Immorality Act. Under that legislation, both Karoline’s white mother and black father could have been arrested and imprisoned –and the child taken into care.

In a further twist, Karoline’s biological mother, who doesn’t come out of this tale too well, is already engaged to a white South African who is today a well-known wine farmer. This, in and of itself, as a bit of a wine fundi, got my mind whirring.

But there’s more. Karoline’s mother goes ahead with her pregnancy, which could, after all, be her fiancé’s.

So they wait and see. Karoline is born; she seems fairly pale, as is sometimes the case with mixed-race babies, but as the weeks pass, she darkens – as do the marital clouds.

What happens next leads us to the title – and I won’t tell you more (plenty of spoilers above), except to say that she comes back to life in suburban South-East England, riding ponies – as you did in the 99% white middle-class Home Counties of the time. However, increasingly Sara-Jayne (as she is now called) struggles with her identity, with consequences that threaten her emotional, physical and spiritual health.

The bizzarreness – and tragedy – do not stop there… and includes the rocky path she treads to reconciliation with some of her biological family; but you will have to buy the book to find out about that. And it’s very much worth the cover price to do so.

Her journey encompasses family tragedy, alienation, self-harm, addiction and time spent in rehab clinics so is, to clobber a cliché, a cracking good read. And it more than delivers on the questioning promise of its eye-catching cover.

What happens when the baby they buried comes back to life? Trust me: it’s one helluva rollercoaster ride finding out.

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