Yellow Room, by Shelan Rodger, is an engaging, compassionate masterpiece of literary fiction. The language is elegant, sensuous and evocative; the characterisations complex and believable. This novel cements the author’s place as a writer of substance.
Chala has grown up with the knowledge that, at four years of age, she accidentally killed her baby sister, an event that has haunted every aspect of her life. Unable to cope with the death of their baby her guardians separated. When Chala’s role in the accident became known at school she was cast out by all except her loyal best friend. Chala struggles to cope with the burden of her guilt seeking some means by which she may make amends.
She decides to fly to Kenya as a volunteer at a shelter for rescued street children. Chala wishes to offer practical help, to make a difference. She soon comes to realise that the problems in Africa cannot be solved by western aid; that what is reported abroad is a snapshot, a construct of a foreign media which soon loses interest and moves on.
What seems like wanton cruelty to western eyes goes unnoticed by those who struggle to survive. When a man has spent his entire life being kicked he thinks nothing of kicking a dog. When human bodies lie in the road a dead donkey will not be mourned. Life is cheap and perilous. Those who offer help are appreciated but it is not their efforts that will make a difference long term. Change must come from within.
Chala is changed. She has seen first hand how childhood experiences can seep through and damage the adult, how bad choices can ruin a life. She may walk away from the violence and hunger of Africa but she cannot walk away from herself.
And now Chala harbours another secret, another guilt from a bad choice she made. Determined to do as her uncle implored, to hold on to what she has got, she returns home to attempt to make a life with her husband, Paul. Unbeknown to her Paul also has a secret. What unfolds threatens to tear them apart.
As a reader I felt the raw emotions of the protagonists as they wrestled with their consciences. Is it better to be open and honest when the truth threatens to destroy; should some secrets be kept?
“Why do we have secrets? Whether they are born of fear or shame, denial or the urge to protect or avoid hurting another, so often they create pain and guilt. We pay a price for the things we keep bottled inside us, and sometimes the bottle bursts.”
After all that had gone before, the denouement was satisfying and uplifting. Life is complex and the fallout from decisions rarely predictable. Still though, it goes on.
I am in awe of this author who can put into words the emotions that bubble beneath the surface of a life. I loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. When you have the chance, read it.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press.