Orphan Sisters is the fifth novel by author Lola Jaye. It came out this summer and tells the emotional tale of two Nigerian sisters and their experiences growing up in post war Britain under the care of the local authority.
Jaye explores a rather neglected part of history by telling a story that is layered with tragedy, but important nonetheless.
Sisters Lanre and Mayowa travel with their mum from Nigeria to London, joining their dad to “live the high life…be happy and excel” in England. What seems like an exciting adventure at first, soon turns sour, as their dad dies unexpectedly.
Life only gets more challenging for the sisters, as their mother who runs a small seamstress business, struggles to make ends meet or even acknowledge what has happened to her husband, and has a mental breakdown. With no other family in Britain, the sisters who are now also joined by a third (Tina), are put into a children’s home.
The passion and authenticity that trails through the novel is clear, Jaye is a psychotherapist and counsellor alongside her writing. Furthermore, she grew up in the social care system in the 1980s and so is telling a story very close to her truth. Lanre and Mayowa, who now go by May and Lana, as the former names are far too “difficult to pronounce”, experience the insidious racism many people of colour felt in Enoch Powell’s Britain, but with no family they could confide or turn to. Having lost everyone they ever knew, the sisters also lose contact with each other, having to make their way independently. Lanre (the eldest), strives and struggles to piece together their past and history, in the hopes of finding her sisters. Mayowa busies herself with books, her studies and then career to block out painful memories, and Tina.. well you just have to read it!!
Be warned, it gets pretty heavy early on in the book and remains that way throughout, however Jaye tells a compelling and powerful story, highlighting the flaws in the care system, and how isolated “looked after” children and young people are.