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Book Review of "Kinky Roots ", by Ingrid Arlington

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The title of Kinky Roots, by Ingrid Arlington, sets the tone of a fascinating memoir that contains philosophical gems. The author was reared in Zimbabwe and Johannesburg, South Africa, and is of African heritage and culture, thus her kinky hair and her kinky family heritage. “Growing up, your hair was your crown…The straighter and the longer it was, the better”…or “it was kinky, curly, frizzy or otherwise known as nappy.” 

This is a feisty and delightfully irreverent memoir.  It is a collage of memories, ruminations, vignettes, and character sketches, encompassing a lifetime of poignant observations by a first-rate writer.  Arlington shows herself as an unstoppable force tethered to an iron will.  She has an exceptional ability to clearly see the very inner workings of people and the things they might rather keep hidden. Arlington writes with a powerful and striking prose style.  Her memoir is very much a book about how to grow up, think, and ‘be’ (especially if you appreciate a complex, funny, intellectual narrator). It’s a book about love, discovery, anger, forgiveness, and integrating all kinds of contradictions into a workable self.
 

Arlington was born in Zimbabwe to a young mother and an absent father. Reared in a large extended, dysfunctional family and surrounded by domestic violence and the remains of racial apartheid, Arlington survived her teen years in spite of family tragedy and the death of a younger sister.  The cultural heritage of native Africans is incorporated into her history and is an educational glimpse into a little-understood society.

Arlington introduces her memoir in the present time by beginning her story while living in her home in the United Kingdom. The manuscript is constructed creatively, interspersing platitudes, with interludes of references to contemporary music and sage advice throughout the sequential story of her life. She tells of unfulfilled romances, struggles with getting an education, and her desire to travel. Kinky Roots is much more than a coming-of-age story.

As a young adult after completing college, she holds several jobs in the technology field where she meets a blond, blue-eyed English young man. Alex is the love of her life. They successfully deal with the ostracism of interracial marriage, and after struggles with his alcoholic father and dysfunctional mother, they moved to the UK.  Kinky Roots, contemplates their obvious differences with natural curiosity, but Arlington never relies on superficial differences to tear their relationship apart.

Throughout the memoir, thought-provoking statements reveal the maturing of Arlington’s mind as she deals with chaos, racial discrimination, and mental health issues. She states that one of the critical lessons she learned is that because “’something is meant to be’ doesn’t mean that you won’t have struggles and hurdles achieving it.” As she matures, she realizes that “you don’t know what you don’t know until you do” and “it’s ok to rebel.” Throughout family trials, she remembers that “rain does not fall on one roof alone.”  She draws strength from her family and cultural heritage even when being ostracized for being non-white and female. A proverb, “when you strike a woman, you strike a rock,” seems to be her motto.

Kinky Roots is Arlington’s first book. Although she is a Cybersecurity consultant by profession, she has discovered writing to be a passion. Expect to discover additional work by this intelligent and provocative young writer.

Kinky Roots, is a superbly culturally rich memoir that also has the virtue of portraying individuals in intercultural relationships, confronts interracial differences, and the intercultural disconnects. It is an exploration of nuances and tenderness. A relevant read for today’s world. 

 

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