Book Review: Diaspora Child by Ciona Nankervis

Diaspora Child, by Ciona Nankervis, is a book of poetry that explores the idea of what it means to belong and to hope to find a place to call home. Nankervis is a Birmingham-born British woman of Punjabi lineage who is unflinching in her descriptions of what life has been like for her as she navigates these turbulent waters.

The cover art is comprised of an image of a painting by the author. Through nearly transparent lines intersecting one another and the hints of red and blue dropped into a few crevices, the complexity of self and nuance is clear. It is a perfect lead into a series of accomplished poems full of their own nuances and complexities.

There’s No Place Like Home– But Where Is It?

As much as numerous people deny, or try to rub out their nature, we, as humans, are natural beings- the yearning for home is foundational to us.

Prologue, Diaspora Child, Ciona Nankervis


From the very beginning of this book Nankervis captures a theme that has been with me for most of my life. Home. I have a childhood memory of a yearly viewing of The Wizard of Oz (before streaming, before VHS & DVD players) on television with my family. The theme of wanting to break free from Midwestern life and go somewhere interesting and exciting spoke to me as a person that felt stifled growing up. I never could imagine wanting to go ‘back’ as Dorothy does in the film. But, what I came to realise later is that I always longed for a place to call home. Home isn’t where I grew up. Home isn’t the place where my family is– it’s so much more complicated and nuanced than that. For me, it has come to mean a place where I feel like I can be myself and where I fit and feel the most comfortable. It’s the place I can’t wait to return back to when I am finished with adventures, much like Dorothy.

Throughout this book, the poet touches on these two large themes: self and home. In order to find a home, it seems imperative to figure out who we are, and home is a great place to figure out the ‘self’. Underneath this complex umbrella are all of the people that come along with their opinions and assumptions, with their ideas about who we are and where we belong. Nankervis says in the prologue: “Home, to me, resides within: wherever you go, you can carry it with you.” In this, we are in agreement and it has taken me a long time to understand this. Yet, I still  find it important to name a place as home, there is something stable about feeling planted. I realise it is a privilege to have such a place and this book of poetry illuminates that fact.

Outside of the Box

I am a cultural composite,
A life and experience kichri
Flavoured by all I have felt and been-
A scratch, sniff, view, listen, lick screen,
Intricate global needlepoint,
Loose buttons in Danish butter biscuit tins.

A child of the Indian diaspora

Diaspora Child, Ciona Nankervis

As a human race, we try to start life in neat little boxes. Categorising things somehow makes us feel comfortable, as if things can be predictable and understood more easily. In science, we categories species and genus with meticulous care and it gives a (false) sense of understanding how everything fits together.

But, these categories are limiting. Labels are limiting. And predictability is nothing I’ve been familiar with in this life. In the verse above, Nankervis details for us everything that doesn’t fit inside the box. Humans are complex and our origins and experiences make us even more complex. When described as an ‘intricate global needlepoint‘, it’s not hard to see how this can be beautiful. But, so many people do not see differences this way. The poet is also clear, exclusion can be faced within one’s own culture. In many of the poems Nankervis points out the experience of being too ‘light skinned’ and therefore being told she does not belong with people of colour.

As I read this, I realise that because of my own privilege, I have never felt this. Nor can I imagine it, not in any way that would do it justice. This is why it is important that I read about these experiences or talk to people that have them first hand. I have seen a lot of poets and writers writing about racial injustice in a misguided attempt to help people of colour. There are plenty of people out there that are willing to speak and tell their stories, and it is important that we listen and learn to amplify their voices. The privileged have spoken on race for long enough, it is now time for poetry like this to speak to us and for us to listen.

In Conclusion

As the coal-black car carrying the people’s princess
Pressed, without mercy, into the walls of a Paris underpass,
Same day, broke the headline of my shattered home.

(To) The Letter., Ciona Nankervis, Diaspora Child

This poem jolted me and left a deep impression. I could say that about a lot of poems in this book. But, here we have the description of an event that anyone living at the time would remember: the death of Princess Diana. Even I, living in America at the time, saw it all over the news and saw the deep mourning that ‘everyone’ appeared to be in over it. Years later, it is still talked about with hushed tones and sadness. But, at the same time, someone’s world was falling apart, shattered like that glass on the Paris underpass and it never made headlines.

This happens all of the time. Every time I see in the news that someone famous has died, I wonder who else was suffering that day. What things are important to us? What matters? This is not to say that what happened to Princess Diana wasn’t a tragedy. Of course it was. But, it was one of many tragedies.

Diaspora Child, by Ciona Nankervis, is a collection of poems that speak to the struggles and difficulties of her specific experience, but do so in a way that let the reader know she is not alone in this suffering. In sharing this story, with so much courage, Nankervis highlights details in a world that I can only see from the outside. We share some commonalities philosophically, which are the things that make us human. This poetry shines light on real problems and does not offer us solutions. This is as it should be. People of privilege should not expect to be hand fed solutions from those that have been marginalised by that same privilege. It is our place to listen. Read this book and listen.

Diaspora Child, by Ciona Nankervis, is available for purchase on Amazon.


About the Author

CIONA NANKERVIS is a writer and artist from Birmingham, England. Her work traverses a variety of subjects, and is written in forms that she feels best express the content, including poetry, prose-poetry and essays. You can also find her on Instagram: @ciona89_

Interested in having your book reviewed at Juliette Writes?

See my submission guidelines & review policy and send a query, I’d love to hear from you!