For Camps Bay author Sara-Jayne King, the release of her memoir Killing Karoline allowed her to come full circle.
It was a story that was 10 years in the making for Ms King, a mixed race child born in 1980 after an “illegal affair”.
This lead to her being adopted by British parents at six months old and growing up in the UK. Upon her return to South Africa 10 years ago, she started writing, first for herself and then for the book which deals with many challenging issues such as the search for identity, rejection and addiction.
“Ever since I learned about my particular story, other people have said that would make an amazing book. That was always in the back of my mind.
“It was when I came back to South Africa for rehab… from the adoption, to the lie and carrying someone else’s shame. I began to write for catharsis rather than for the story.”
She said writing at that point was a part of her healing and journey to recovery. “I initially started writing but then put the book down because it was too much.
“It was still very early in recovery after rehab and it was still very fresh in my mind. I wasn’t ready to write a book that people would want to read. I spent the next few years working on me.”
Ms King then picked up the book again “when I was able to look back with more self-reflection and put eyes on myself as well rather than just finger pointing”.
She said as more people started hearing about the book, she realised she was also writing for other people. “(It is for) anyone who felt less than or separate from – which I think, probably at some point, is all of us.”
She spent some time living in Dubai before returning to South Africa. “After a year in Dubai I was at the height of my addiction and eating disorder,” she said. Then a friend told her that their were great treatment centres in South Africa.
“It just so happened that it was kind of a full circle for me. I was coming back to where I’d left 26 years before under this shroud of secrecy. I had kind of returned at my rock bottom.
“Funnily enough the treatment centre I went to in Johannesburg was about two roads away from where I was born. Landing in South Africa for the first time, although I was coming for rehab, was like (coming) home. It was quite incredible.”
Ms King added that she was always aware of what had happened to her.
“By the time I was in South Africa I had gone through a very traumatic process of trying to get in touch with my biological mother. It was horrific and it was the second rejection.”
Although she had been adopted in to a loving family, the search for identity was always something which occupied her mind.
“I didn’t realise I was black until I was nine. Race is not a concept that we are born with. However, I think it is hugely important in defining our identity.
“I saw my parents and their skin was lighter than mine and that’s all that it was. I didn’t understand the concepts of race or what it meant to be a black person.
“The issues of identity would hit when I did realise what it meant. As much I felt loved by my family, I always felt this sense of loss, of grief of non-connection.”
She added that it was only when she got older and spoke to others who had been adopted, that she realised that was a common thing. “In adoption we talk about the primal wound, which is what happens when you are separated from your biological mother, whatever the circumstance.”
Ms King was about 14 years old around the time of the first democratic elections in South Africa.
“I have no recollection of any of this being mentioned at school. It was really only when I came back and stayed that I suddenly realised that ‘you are a child of South Africa and you know nothing about this place’. I knew nothing more than the average person from overseas and I’m still in my learning process. In writing the book, there were times when I felt ‘do I have the right to write about this country?’”
Earlier this month, it was her 10th anniversary of being sober. It was also her 10th anniversary of being back in South Africa – all in the same week as her book launch. “Last week was a lot,” she said.
She said she had been overwhelmed by the response to the book. “I wake up every morning and every day there is a new message in my inbox from people.
“Adoptees have messaged me. They said thank you so much for sharing your story because it’s not one that gets spoken about. There were addicts who were saying thank you for speaking with so much honesty. I’ve been completely overwhelmed.”
Ms King added that she was also looking forward to taking part in the Open Book Festival which takes place in Cape Town next month. She will be taking part in three discussions – on coloured identity, writing memoirs and finding home.
“I cannot wait. I got asked to be part of the festival before my book was even finished, which was incredible. The Book Lounge and Open Book have been so supportive.”
She also currently works as a late night host on radio station Cape Talk.
“I remember driving through Green Point and I thought one day I want to live in Cape Town, work there and my book to be on the shelves.
“Radio is the best medium. I can rock up at work with my dog walking jumper and braids all over my head and no one cares. It’s me being my most authentic self.”
Ms King said she is planning another book that will deal with some aspects of mental health challenges.
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