Deborah Klee's The Borrowed Boy
The Borrowed Boy is a story about families—good ones, bad ones, non-existent ones and the ones we find. Author Deborah Klee told me, “I am a firm believer that family means more than familial relationships – they are the people in our lives who are the most important to us.” Questions about what family and community mean are key to understanding the search of protagonist Angie Winkle for home. Deborah continued, “I use every opportunity in my daily life to notice and value people who perhaps feel excluded. Angie is one of those people and although a fictitious character, she represents others who with a bit of kindness and recognition might enjoy a better life.”
Angie is on her way to Jaywick, a town in decline, a socially deprived neighborhood, contains convicts on the run and misfits, and yet…those who move away miss Jaywick’s close community. When accepted, people feel safe there, at home, as Angie does.
Angie is at the bottom of her life. Diagnosed with cancer, no item on her bucket list fulfilled or even thought of, she has missed being loved—no marriage, no children, no grandchildren. Deborah shared, “Angie would have been a wonderful mother and grandmother but her self-inflicted isolation robbed her of those experiences.” Then, suddenly on the underground, the doors and Fate close, and Angie and 4-year-old Danny, alone, unloved and frightened, are handed a different possibility.
Angie at first plans to return Danny to whom she thinks are his rightful parents until she discovers he was abused and used in drug trafficking. The author selected Hope Square, at the Liverpool Street Station as the meeting place. This place ultimately becomes an important motif in the story. At Hope Square is the sculpture by artist Frank Meisler, himself rescued on the Kindertransport. The sculpture of 5 children with suitcases and a violin case memorializes the 10,000 mostly Jewish children rescued from Nazi occupied Europe by the British. Separated from loving families, these children were put in foster families until they could be reunited with their families. Many of these reunions never occurred as the parents were murdered.
While Deborah was writing this novel, she commuted into London daily and passed this statue. At first, she just created it as a meeting place and then it began to represent more: rescued children whose world was saved. On the sculpture reads a quote from the Talmud, (a post Biblical central Jewish work), “Whosoever rescues a single soul is credited as though they have saved the world.” The images of the suitcases are the inspiration for the cover of The Borrowed Boy. Many of the children who were saved were from Poland, as is Danny, who like the rescued children, is separated from his true family and must find safety and love with new people.
Hidden identities and communities, abandonment and rescue, despair and hope fill this novel. Deborah with a career in health and social work, told me “I have spent several years writing serious case reviews and domestic homicide reviews in my working life. They never end well.
I write fiction so that I can write my protagonists a happy ending.”
As a reader, I was very glad of this happy ending!
Comfort food is eaten by Angie and Danny in Sal’s takeaway café. Fish and Chips of course is at the top of the British favorites. A variation of this is one of Danny’s favorites—Finger Fish drizzled with a Cucumber Dill or Tartar sauce on Soft White Bread. Also find a link to other British favorites!