My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay; Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller; Not Speaking by Norma Clarke - review by Lindy Burleigh

Lindy Burleigh

Family Fortunes

My Name Is Why


Canongate 193pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Travel Light, Move Fast


Serpent’s Tail 225pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Not Speaking


Unbound 312pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

These three very different memoirs are bound together by the common themes of familial love and conflict. For the poet Lemn Sissay, it was the absence of family that defined his life, as he documents in My Name Is Why. He grew up as Norman Greenwood, believing that his birth mother, a young Ethiopian student, had abandoned him as a baby. It was only after receiving the files relating to him from Wigan Council, following a thirty-year campaign to gain access to them, that he discovered the truth about his origins and identity and learned that he had been deprived of a mother because of bureaucratic indifference. His painfully compelling memoir juxtaposes extracts from these typewritten reports – in which he is referred to initially as ‘The boy’ – with lyrical childhood memories.

Sissay was fostered by a white working-class Baptist couple, who told him that nobody else had wanted ‘a “coloured” baby’. Still, he called them Mum and Dad and, by his own account, was a ‘happy child’, ‘inquisitive and unafraid’, who enjoyed all the usual pleasures – ‘Curly Wurlys,

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter