Travel into the heart and mind of an extraordinary autistic boy in this deeply imaginative debut novel of a mother’s devotion, a father’s punishment, and the power of love.
Sephiri is an autistic boy who lives in a world of his own making, where he dwells among imagined sea creatures that help him process information in the “real world” in which he is forced to live. But lately he has been having dreams of a mysterious place, and he starts creating fantastical sketches of this strange, inner world.
Brenda, Sephiri’s mother, struggles with raising her challenged child alone. Her only wish is to connect with him—a smile on his face would be a triumph. Meanwhile, Sephiri’s father, Horus, is sentenced to life in prison, making life even lonelier for Brenda and Sephiri. Yet prison is still not enough to separate father and son. In the seventh year of his imprisonment and the height of his isolation, Horus develops supernatural mental abilities that allow him to reach his son. Memory and yearning carry him outside his body, and through the realities of their ordeals and dreamscape, Horus and Sephiri find each other—and find hope in ways never imagined.
Wow, what a book! It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel from Morowa Yejide. It is so accomplished, working emotionally, visually and verbally.
The book is about several themes. The first is imprisonment. Horus is literally imprisoned in an establishment that is closer to a Guantanamo than a regular prison, a place where the prisoners (or rats as they are called) have their spirits broken. There is meant to be no escape both physically and mentally. Sephiri is imprisoned by his autism and Brenda is imprisoned by her roles as mother to a child whose behaviour is at the severe end of the autistic spectrum and as the wife of a "cop killer".
The second theme is communication. Clearly Brenda and Sephiri cannot communicate with each other verbally (Sephiri cannot speak or understand words) and there is no communication between Brenda and Horus, nor is there any real emotional communication between Brenda and other people, including Horus' emotionally damaged brother, Manden.
The last theme is the way emotional damage is carried from childhood and even passed down between generations. This is reflected in all the people who appear in the book, including a sadistic prison guard and the prison warden. Much of the book is about the unravelling of the back story - how and why Horus killed a man, understanding how Brenda turned from a pretty woman hopeful that she will be able to save her husband to a woman who is killing herself with overeating and why Manden reacts the way he does.
All this could be too depressing, and indeed at times it is very painful to read, but Yejide offers a magical answer. Sephiri has an alternative world to the one that scares him. This world is not presented as an imagined or dream world but as an alternative reality. Horus too finds an alternative: a route out of his foul-smelling concrete cell, through the catacombs beneath the prison where extinct locusts are stirring to the shore of the sea on which his son is floating. Love finds a way.
This book has everything I look for in a novel: in-depth psychology, beautiful use of words and images, strong themes, magic that is not about escaping serious issues, and an element of uplift.
I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in return for a fair review.