First aired on The Sunday Edition (25/3/12)
At its core, Kyo Maclear's novel Stray Love is about a lonely boy yearning to belong. The boy, Marcel, is a mixed-race child growing up in London, England, in the racially charged swinging '60s. He has no idea who his parents are. His adoptive father, Oliver, is a peripatetic foreign correspondent who is an inept, if well-meaning, parent. While he disappears to chase stories in conflict zones like Liberia, Angola and Vietnam, Marcel is left in the care of a cast of dramatic and dysfunctional adults, all of whom are strays of one sort or another.
Both Marcel and Oliver live in a swirl of turbulent confusion. Marcel worries constantly about his father, and tries to make sense of a culture that marginalizes him. This is a world well understood by Kyo Maclear, herself the child of two different cultures. Her mother is a Japanese art dealer and painter and her father was a British journalist. You may have heard of him: Michael Maclear was a CBC foreign correspondent and was the first journalist to interview American POWs in Vietnam.
The family structure and experiences in Stray Love may parallel the Maclears', but Kyo cautions readers about trying to draw too many comparisons. "It's not my story," she said. She does, however, feel a strong connection to Marcel because of their shared experience of being a child who didn't quite fit in. "A lot of the emotions do feel very close to me, some of his bewilderment feels accurate to me. I do feel very identified with Marcel."
As for her father's influence over the book, Kyo said that his experiences informed her writing, and his work -- including his book and his documentary series, both titled The Ten Thousand Day War -- was an invaluable resource. In addition to getting the historical facts right, Maclear wanted to give readers an accurate account of what it was like to be a war reporter in Vietnam at that time. "I wanted to connect the story to certain key historical moments but I didn't want it to be too laminated to history," she explained. "So I was wary of telling that story, in a way, because it's overdetermined."
So why tell a story so close to her own family's in the first place? Vietnam has been a strong presence in Kyo's life from before she was even born. "I grew up an only child and Vietnam always felt like a sibling to me," she said. "It was a place that had stolen my father's heart." In fact, her father was in Vietnam when he learned that his wife was pregnant, on the same day he had witnessed American raids on civilians near the Vietnam border. Michael later called that memorable day "a day of horror and happiness."
As a result, Kyo simply couldn't escape Vietnam. It was as much a part of her family as her mother's art and her father's job. But Kyo sees writing as her way of working through things, and so it makes sense that Vietnam would play such a prominent role in her first novel. "Writing a novel is a way of bottling up my thoughts and feelings and ideas and examining them and then I let them go," she said. "It's kind of cathartic in a way."
Kyo feels her place between two different cultures has raised a lot of issues and emotions for her to work through in her writing. But, with two children's books and a novel under her belt, she's come to appreciate her struggles. "It makes you very aware," she said. "it's a good place for a writer to be, on the outside looking in."