Where do we belong in this world? If we aren’t even certain about our own origins, how can we possibly make our way in this world without a foundation of support and love? Especially “How?” if the person trying to figure this out is an eleven-year-old boy?
In beautiful, poetic prose Kyo Maclear takes on these questions in Stray Love, her second novel. For her young protagonist, Maclear tries to help make sense of a world that is determined to judge, label and put everyone in a tidy, little box. Marcel is neither black nor white. He is someone who is seemingly without parents and just wants to fit in. Finding the answers to these important questions is a lifelong search for him.
From the book’s description:
Born of an adulterous affair in London, England, Marcel is ethnically ambiguous, growing up in the racially charged 1960s with a white surrogate father named Oliver. Abandoned as an infant, Marcel is haunted by vague memories of his bohemian mother, and is desperate to know who his real parents are.
When Oliver is promoted to foreign correspondent, he leaves Marcel in the care of his ill-equipped friends, including the beautiful Pippa. The world is being swept by a wave of liberation—coups, revolutions and the end of colonialism. While Oliver rushes toward the action, Marcel is set adrift in swinging London, a city of magic—and a city where he can never quite fit in. Just when it seems they will never be reunited, Marcel is sent to join Oliver in Vietnam. But by the summer of 1963, the war is escalating, and Oliver is finally overwhelmed by his doomed love for Pippa. When Marcel eventually uncovers the shattering truth about his mother, his entire world is rearranged.
Now, as his fiftieth birthday approaches, Marcel is asked to take care of his friend’s eleven-year-old daughter, Iris. Prodded by her sharp-eyed company, he reflects on his own bittersweet childhood and the experiences that have shaped his present.
Using non-linear prose that moves from Marcel’s present to his tumultuous past, we are treated to a heartfelt examination of identity. The novel is populated by characters of mixed heritage who seem lost in their lives and in their loves. As a boy, Marcel is older than his years. Though loved by a makeshift collection of emotionally damaged caregivers, he is not truly anyone’s first priority. But Marcel is able to compartmentalize, has a talent for drawing and a devoted friend in Kiyomi so is able to escape from his life. At least for brief moments of time.
“Kiyomi had taught me the word. Moggy, she said, was a slang word for “cat”, but it was also a name for mongrels. “I am a moggy”, she said, “because dad is Scottish and mum is Japanese.” According to Kiyomi, moggies were half-ghost. Moggies cannot walk down the street or into a room or watch a movie without looking for themselves. When will I appear? was the question on the lips of most moggies.
I finished this read several weeks ago now and it is still sitting with me. I have delayed posting my review only because I am feeling a huge responsibility to do justice to both the novel and Maclear. But today, I just want to get something published here, to share my love of this wonderful book.
Each year I find a very small number of spectacular works of fiction that, for whatever reasons, seem to fly under the radar. I think Stray Love is such a book. So, do yourself a big favour and get your hands on a copy of this novel. (Even better, visit a local independent bookstore to purchase a copy! The trade paperback edition of Stray Love became available as of March 11th.) As it has with me, I think you will find the beauty and heart in Maclear’s novel. Marcel will take up space in your heart and, I hope, you will discover a new favourite author.