Seeking Asylum, Speaking Silence
Speech, Silence and Psychosocial Trauma in Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth
“How could she ever put the terrible pictures in her head into words?” (Naidoo, Truth 51). This question is at the heart of Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth (2000), which narrates the trauma of Nigerian asylum seeker children Sade and Femi as they flee to Britain. Speech and silence are ambivalent within the text, fluctuating in meaning dependant on the social context in which they are enacted. Showing this text to be primarily a narrative of activism, I explore how Naidoo’s representations of trauma inform her critique of the British immigration system. This text invites a reading that draws on recent postcolonial theories of trauma. Using both textual and paratextual analysis of the novel and Naidoo’s archive, held by Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books in Britain, I draw on Greg Forter’s model of psychosocial trauma to demonstrate that the trauma the protagonists face is a result of their encounter with a racist society and bureaucracy. Reflecting Adrienne Kertzer’s claim that social justice should be central in trauma narratives for children, Naidoo shows healing from trauma to be the locus of political awakening for both characters and implied reader. The aim of this article is to integrate contemporary models of postcolonial trauma with an understanding of the activist nature of Naidoo’s work, showing that in this sort of children’s trauma narrative, the site of healing from trauma is simultaneously the site of social change. Since the trauma that the child protagonists face is a social phenomenon, the speech that allows the children to begin to heal is similarly socially situated, and their healing is synonymous with social justice.
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