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True identity comes from within you.
All her life Kamila had wanted to find her birth family. She hoped that retirement would give her the much-needed time to trace her roots, but a diagnoses of terminal ovarian cancer had put paid to that. They say curiosity kills the cat, but not in Kamila’s case:it is keeping her alive. As her future becomes uncertain, the past, suddenly begins to open up, clearly, for the first time.
Chasing Ghosts is the true story of one woman’s quest to find out the origins of who she is, along with the unexpected and remarkable insights that will light up her path to discovery. Author Kamila Zahno was - as legend has it - born under a gooseberry bush on Hampstead Heath. She was adopted in 1952 by an Indian-English couple and raised in their family home in Birmingham,along with her adoptive siblings Patrick, Tim, Nicky and Ellen. Heralding from different ethnic backgrounds, their Dad referred to their family as Heinz 57 varieties. Life was regimented but happy and full of laughter; expectations were high
and her parents would not let race, racism or the fact of their adoption give them excuses for under-achieving.
As Kamila reached adulthood, the myths of their family began to create a sense of unease for Kamila and her siblings. Where was her mother, the Swiss nurse? What had happened to Patrick’s Sudanese student father? Who were Tim’s parents, thought to have been killed in the London Blitz? And did Ellen’s Sri Lankan airline pilot father really exist? With each of their identities bound up by secrecy and intrigue it was hardly surprising that they would each embark on a quest to uncover the truth behind their adoption.
When I first read the blurb for this book, I wasn't really sure it was my kind of read. I then sat down with a cuppa and re read it. It sounded so much better when I read it properly and thought it was worth giving it a go.
I'm kind of glad I did. It really was an interesting read.
A truly emotional read. One woman’s journey to seek out who she really is, and who her real parents are.
It was certainly a change from the Crime fiction books I normally have my head stuck in, but I needed a little change from serial killers, and murderers.
I really felt for Kamila in this book, It must have been a difficult journey to go on, and amazing that she has shared it with us, the readers.
I can’t help but wonder just how difficult it must have been writing it and sharing it with complete strangers. Not only about her life being adopted and trying to discover who she is or who her parents are. But also the struggle and fight against Cancer. I think nearly everyone now a days knows someone or of someone who has struggled with Cancer and it’s not an easy battle. But to be fighting that and searching for your roots, must really have been a difficult thing to do.
At times I almost felt like I was delving into someone’s personal life, that I shouldn’t be reading it. But I had to read it, I really wanted to keep on reading and to see where Kamila ended up in her life, to see if she got answers to all the questions she had.
It’s funny when reading it how things seem so different now, from when she was first given up for adoption. And some of these points are highlighted in her story.
Thank you to the publishers and author for allowing me to the chance to read this book
There are four of us: Ellen, Tim, Patrick and me. Post War babies. The late 1940s must have been a heady time for our mothers. Working independently in London they were free to spend their clothes rations on a beautiful dresses, dance to Glenn Miller’s big band music at the Hammersmith Palais - and meet ‘coloured’ young men. But that glamorous time ended abruptly when we arrived on the scene. Secreted away for several months in mother and baby homes, our mums grew to believe that their best option was to give us up for adoption. Unencumbered by babies they could start afresh, leaving us to adapt like kittens to a new family. Adoption in those days was known as the Clean Break: no contact between the child and the birth mother. Ever.
Not only were we illegitimate, a taboo that remained until the 1960s, we were mixed race. All four of us ended up in the nurseries of adoption agencies, but we weren’t even considered adoption material. When my sister Ellen researched her adoption papers, the fact that she was ‘slightly coloured’ meant that she was ‘impossible to adopt’.
But we were lucky. We were found by exceptional parents. Our adoptive mother was a doctor working in post-natal clinics in Birmingham; she came across Ellen languishing in an adoption agency’s nursery. Instantly attracted to her she asked if she could bring her husband to see Ellen with a view to adoption. Our adoptive mother was Indian, our adoptive father English - and in his words “a child of our own might have been ‘slightly coloured’”. And so our family was born.
The four of us were an interesting mix - Dad would call us Heinz 57 varieties, which I didn’t really like. All of us had white birth mothers; my father was Indian, Ellen’s from Ceylon, Patrick’s from the Gold Coast, and Tim’s was French Canadian - although this was always a bit of a mystery because he looks south Asian. We always knew we were adopted but no big deal was made of it. We were a family.
In those days there was no possibility of meeting our birth parents, so even if I did wonder what my Swiss mother and Indian father were doing now, there was nothing I could do to find them. It was not until 1976 that adoption law changed in England so that adopted children over the age of eighteen could search for their birth parents. By then we were young adults with busy lives and we didn’t really consider searching.
It also seems disrespectful to search for your birth parents when your adoptive parents are still alive. Isn’t one set of parents enough? But in common with many adoptees I started searching when our adoptive mother had died. The death of a parent acts as a trigger for many adoptees. Why is it necessary? Is it just curiosity or something more? It certainly wasn’t to do with replacement parents. Ours was a good adoption. I think it’s about a sense of completion. It’s like completing the puzzle of my life.
So in 1991, one year after Mum died, I tried to access my adoption file. I had to have an interview to make sure I was sane enough to be able to take any information about my birth circumstances. The counsellor asked me why I wanted to search and what I would do with the information. She was rather a frosty character and came across as the keeper of my past. All I went away with were my parents’ names, where they came from and what they were doing in London. I also learned that my mother had returned to Switzerland. I wasn’t allowed to see or take away my own file!
I joined a not-for-profit organisation run by and for adopted people. They had useful information on how to search for your birth parents’ records - and a flow chart to go with it. A bit like a snakes and ladders board! Not only that but they could contact your parents on your behalf. Things were still a bit sensitive, even in the ’90s and you weren’t supposed to contact them yourself in case your parents didn’t want to know you. But they were unable to help me as they didn’t do searches outside Britain.
Did I find my records in the end? You’ll have to read Chasing Ghosts to find out!
About Kamila Zahno
Living in north London with her cat, Kamila Zahno has enjoyed a long career working as a consultant for local and central government, as well as the voluntary sector, researching and evaluating socio-economic policy.