Map-making and the Adoption Atlas in “Killing Karoline” by Sara-jayne King

Conference: The European Conference on Arts & Humanities (ECAH2022)
Title: Map-making and the Adoption Atlas in “Killing Karoline” by Sara-jayne King
Stream: Literature/Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Hanta Henning, University of the Free State, South Africa


The recent proliferation of adoption narratives in mainstream media provides fertile narrative soil for sowing the seeds of adoption activism, awareness, and agency. Spanning the genres of autobiographical films (Philomena, Lion) to children's animation (Kung Fu Panda, Mr Peabody and Sherman), such narratives frame the representation of adoption across ages and cultures. However, adoption studies show that members of the adoption triangle (first parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents) often feel silenced and misrepresented despite these narratives, their trauma and search for belonging hidden behind what I term the "cult of gratitude". The memoir "Killing Karoline" (King, 2016) provides an insight into an adoptee's voicing of this trauma. This paper draws on three types of mapping: Hayakawa’s (1991) concept of the semantic map, Flatley (2008) and Jameson’s (2000) work on cognitive-affective maps, and Nagy’s (2015) "adoption is beautiful" and "adoption sucks" maps. Using these maps as framework, I investigate how the author navigates her adoption through map-making to create a unique adoption atlas. King sketches maps of trauma and unbelonging, while commenting saliently on core issues surrounding interracial adoption, such as racial literacy, forced displacement, and the primal wound. This sees King breaking free from the cult of gratitude, allowing the reader to see, through King’s lived experience, a relief map of interracial adoption and the adoption triangle. In the emerging oeuvre of South African adoption narratives, specifically, King’s memoir opens the way for map-making in similar narratives in the creation of adoption atlases through the representation of lived experience.

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