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Review: I Wish I Could say I was Sorry by Susie Kelly

August 1, 2019


What a rollercoaster ride this memoir of Susie Kelly’s is. I started reading it because the first chapters appeared at the end of Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants and I got hooked straight away, so I bought it.

This is the story of many a post WWII dysfunctional family in Africa. It is sad, but riveting. It tells of Susie Kelly’s life growing up as the victim of a broken marriage and the misfit in her father’s second family in the context of a conventional colonial society. Having lived in South Africa myself for 20 years, I know many people with similar backgrounds and family histories.

The richness of the book is that it is largely set in Kenya and Susie’s love for the country and its people shines through. I didn’t grow up in Africa, but I wish I had. Despite the many problems, inequalities and injustices of African colonial life, it was a wonderful place to be a child. The freedom, the space, the outdoor life, all these were food for a child’s soul.

Added to that, children often forged deep and lasting relationships with their family servants and these are the most precious of the stories Susie had to tell as she continued to love and value her Kenyan servants in adulthood.

In many respects, the memoir is a mystery too. Why was she the misfit? Why did her stepmother hate her? What was the truth she was never allowed to hear? I can relate to her family situation very easily as in my family, there were also things we didn’t talk about, stony loaded silences, unexplained rages etc., but I think that was the case in many post-war families. Conventions, manners, pride, what was and wasn’t done were all there to repress discussion and open dialogue, so feelings exploded without explanation. Poor Susie lived with constant tension and the questions it raised.

I read this in a day and loved it for the Africa it took me to; the sense of place, the warmth of so many people in Susie’s life, the entertaining stories about her school years, some of which had me crying with laughter. I also felt her sadness in being unable to solve the mystery; at being unable to talk to her family because there were so many taboos. The contrast between the love she received from others and the cold silence of her family underscored the poignancy.

Altogether, this book is a personal and honest window onto a world and life that has now mostly disappeared and I recommend it highly. Wonderful!

The link to the book is here

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One Comment
  1. Great review Val. Really must read this one! 😀

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