Testimonials

What readers are saying about Umbilicus

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“I think you write engagingly, and your story touched me.” – Jani Allan, author and adoptee

“It is a beautifully written, brave piece of work.” – Melinda Ferguson, author and indie publisher

“I am leery of second person stories, but this is so effective it took my breath away.” – Michelle Johnson, literary agent

“Original and remarkable … this book has a very human story at its heart … with some great nuances and idiosyncrasies which make it unique.” – Anonymous beta reader

“This is a soulful story which allows the reader to face the facts from the perspective of every person involved, and experience the effect adoption has on each one of them. Although it is a sad story, it is also a story filled with love, and compassion. It leaves one with a sense of wonder, of how different things could have been, had there not been so many secrets.” – Joanna

“Easy-to-read, emotive and real, Umbilicus is a thought-provoking autobiographical novel that gives a glimpse into what life is like for an adopted child, and the mixed emotions that come along with it.” – Glamour magazine

I was enthralled whilst reading how your story unfolded … It struck me that you had a void for 21 years not knowing who your birth mom was, and I have the same void now, with my mom being dead for nearly 22 years, not knowing what our relationship would’ve been like.” – Kirsty

“A MUST READ for anyone involved in adoption or forming part of the adoption triad … As an adoptive mother, this was not an easy read for me. I cried and was quite tearful throughout the book. It’s highly emotional and really gives you a front row seat to one woman’s struggle to find her identity, her sense of self, among the secrecy and bureaucracy of closed adoptions in the 1970s and 1980s … I give this book a solid 5 star rating as it was hugely insightful.” adoptive mom Sharon Van Wyk, aka The Blessed Barrenness, 2015 Winner of Best Parenting Blog – African Blogger Awards

“Coming of age and building your own map of the world: Great structural choices made in this book … It’s the women’s voices that come through strongest in intimate conversations, with their mix of hesitation and openness … A book to mull over, even for those of us with the privilege of knowing exactly who we got that chin from.” – Miranda Vineall

“Writer to watch for sure.” – Paige Nick, author and Sunday Times columnist

“A fascinating, heart-rending, uplifting story that is easy to read. It certainly tugged on my ‘new mom’ sentimentality. I think Paula was very lucky that the experience of meeting her birth parents was a positive one. It is an emotional experience and decision which I don’t think anyone, unless they’ve been in the situation, could ever truly understand. I found the level of affectedness experienced by all the people involved something we can all learn from and empathise with.” – Phillipa, blogger

“An exhilarating, important, intensely consuming book that had me blubbing like a baby. Thank you for writing your story!” – Deborah Du Plooy, Events Manager at Skoobs, Theatre of Books, and adoptee

“Gripping! I am in awe! You have helped me answer questions I didn’t know I had, and now I’m feeling quite motivated for a meeting with my birth mother. Thank you for inspiring me for my journey ahead.” – Jackie Davis, adoptee

“I cried about six times and identified with a lot of the characters in the story, mostly your birth mother. This book is full of lessons, not only for adopted children, but families in general. Life truly is short, say what needs to be said. I’m calling my mom right now to tell her I love her.” – Chantal

“A grueling emotional roller-coaster that had me captivated from start to finish. The references to landmarks in Durban made it all the more real and identifiable being an ex-Durbanite myself. A beautiful and heart-rending account of an adoptee’s journey.” – Tracy

“Such a stunning story. A great, easy and insightful read. Made me realise some things about my relationship with my mother.” – MaryAnn

“Blown away … I just couldn’t put this down! The writing pulls you in and the emotions are raw and honest. For anyone who is part of the ‘adoption triad’ – parents who had to give up their baby, parents who adopted, and the child who grew up in a whole new family – this is a MUST READ.” – Michelle

“I sat down next to my fire and finished this book within four hours. I love to read, but I never keep my books. This is only the second time in my life that I have sat down with a book and read it in a single sitting. This is also the second book that I intend keeping in the hopes that my adopted daughter will read it too; the other book is an autobiography on infertility, treatments, miscarriage, etc… Many parts of the book struck me – and I think I will read it again so that I can make notes in the margins (which I have never done before) … I cried not just for my daughter’s birth mom, but for me and for my daughter too. I cried because what Paula had to say on so many pages in so many paragraphs may just happen to my child … I have never read such a raw and open book before … This book is a wake up to people who really don’t know just how involved and intense adoption is … Please get your hands on this book. It’s a very powerful read.” – Lisa-Marie Watling aka Bluebird’s Mother, widowed adoptive mom

“I can count on one hand the number of books that have made me cry – this is one. I couldn’t put it down! How awesome to be able to relate to familiar places and people. Thank you for sharing your story – beautifully written and highly recommended.” – Genevieve

“It’s the first time in my life I started to read a book and only put it down once I finished. At times I sobbed so much I couldn’t see to read. I related especially to your birth mother’s story, having once stood at the same crossroads, with similar decisions to make. I feel terribly humbled by your raw emotion. I’m blown away. I loved every word.” – Lani, single mom

“I had an inkling of what to expect from Umbilicus, but I didn’t expect the emotions that came along with it … To watch Charlotte grow into an adult and watch her face her past is quite moving … This is a solid book with a strong message … I may have teared up at times, which in itself is a remarkable feat to achieve.” – Monique Snyman, Tentacle Books

“I am not sure who I am more sad for; the rejection that Charlotte must have felt, or the different yet heartbreaking failings of the two moms. I can’t even begin to imagine going through this, but the way this book is written was so insightful. I feel like I have gained so much knowledge into the adoption world!” – Kerry

“An emotional and intimate journey of discovery … I loved the honesty and truth in this author’s story which gives an insight into the world of the adopted child that was completely new to me. Her characters were well-rounded and popped into life as living, breathing people who were never two-dimensional or over-romanticised. I personally do not like the use of letters to move a story forward, but these were a very necessary part of this story and even this worked for me. This book … should be required reading for anyone contemplating adoption. It would also be a powerful read … for any adopted child, or sibling, or friend of an adopted child. A refreshing, interesting, and easy read.” – Raymond Strodl

“The emotions and experiences are painfully – and sometimes joyfully – written across the pages. Once you finish reading, it’s difficult to let Charlotte go. The book is written in such a way that you feel connected to the story and the characters woven through it. Charlotte’s young voice, with a typical KZN accent, is one you easily grow to love. It would appeal primarily to young adults, but it is certainly a book that anyone experiencing an aspect of adoption should let each family member read. As it is a true story wrapped in fiction, the information shared is entirely factual, and one can learn a tremendous amount. However, because it is written in a fictitious voice, it is an easy and gripping read too. This is a remarkable debut novel from a very talented writer who will certainly become a very powerful South African voice.” – Women24 

“The character Charlotte and I are roughly the same age. I could identify with the person, the culture, the language, and what living in South Africa was like as a teenager during the time period in which the book is set. I found Charlotte to be a strong character, honest about her weaknesses and flaws, and open to forgiveness and truth. There is an inborn focus and drive that allows you to cling to the character, cheering her on towards the conclusion … [There is] a very authentic feeling of a story coming full circle … An easy, but emotional read. I recommend this book be made available to young adults as a means of educating without preaching. It opened a wonderful dialogue between me and my 17-year-old daughter.” – Christel-Michel Kruger aka The Nocturnal Wenchy, blogger

“Highly recommended … engaging from the first page … a thoroughly relatable main character and crisp writing style … the author reveals the potential emotional effects of adoption for all involved whilst never losing sight of the fact that it is also a miracle.” – Kelly-Marie Thompson

“One of the best new local authors this year!” – Dave Nemeth, Trend Forward

“I found this book humorous, sad, insightful, and heartwarming. Made me think of my days as a teen in Durban.” – Jeff Strodl

“An absolute must-read book … it touched my heart, made me cry, and taught me so much about this special journey!” – Yolande Prinsloo, prospective adoptive mom

“I found this story interesting on a lot of levels. Firstly, it is autobiographical, and there is something about knowing this is someone’s life story that makes you connect to it. Secondly, the novel deals with a whole host of themes: adoption, rejection/acceptance, teen angst, suicide, and unwanted pregnancy. Thirdly, this novel makes you feel! Fourthly, I love that it is set in South Africa, specifically Durban, as my husband is from there, and I can relate to a lot of the places mentioned. Lastly, I was left wanting more, wondering what is next?! I hope Paula does write a second book. I need to know what happens in the next 20 years of her life!” – Lu-Marie Fraser, Sugar and Snark

“My mother has never read a book in all the years I have been around, and she started reading Umbilicus yesterday and couldn’t put it down. She loved it!” – Carmen

“Having just put your book down, I have the urge to read it again, as I do with all novels I love. I cannot believe how much pain and hardship you have endured, and yet if it had been any different, it wouldn’t have shaped you into the remarkable person that you are today, uniquely you. And I can only imagine how many other adoptees you have helped immensely by sharing your experiences.” – Christie

“Cover to cover in one sitting. Wow.” – Melanie van Lier

“What a beautiful, beautiful book. What a journey you’ve traveled. Not once in my life have I ever sat down and contemplated what it must feel like to not know where you came from, and not know where you’re going, as you did, until you found yourself, when you found your biological parents. The letters from both your moms and your biological dad were my favourite things. The one you wrote to your son at the end is simply wonderful. One day he is going to read it, in all his completeness, and know how precious he is to you. What more could a child ever ask for? How many parents are blissfully unaware of the importance of validation? I still find it quite incredible that the most confusing, unsettling, and trying times in our lives can lead to the most inspiring books. Umbilicus is one of them.” – Phillipa Mitchell, author

“I read this book in one sitting and kept finding myself saying to myself ‘please don’t end’. As a born and bred Durbanite I could picture every place and scene you so beautifully penned. What an incredible journey you have had and thank you for sharing it. It still left me wanting more! I so hope that there is another book in the pipeline. I would buy it in a heartbeat.” – Justine

“A very powerful book which warmed my heart, and was a true pleasure to read. I feel like you shared a somewhat painful, yet beautiful memory with me. It resonates with me as I have always wondered about my father’s family (about whom I know very little). It was an easy read, and in most cases I find books like that easily forgettable, but this is a book I will not forget.” – Ashtyn

“NEVER in my life have I been so consumed by a book … I’m only halfway but I’ve been immersed for close on 24 hours now. While reading I started wondering about stuff and popped over to your web page where I discovered so much … The soundtrack on YouTube, photographs of your birth parents, and of you in your youth, and so much more. I can see how this would be a great school set work. I’m so enjoying myself, and this [rainy] weather has been heaven sent. Thank you, Paula.” – Deborah Ho-Chung

“I woke this morning and decided that it was the perfect weather for a blanket and a book. Such a lovely read. I couldn’t put it down. My mother will be reading it next and I’m certain she will also enjoy it. My grandmother was adopted through a sales ad in a newspaper. She found out when she needed a copy of her birth certificate much later on in life. She was never able to find out anything about where she came from, and it impacted her terribly. [This book will resonate with] those whose lives have been touched in some way, shape, or form by adoption.” – Louise Rayman

“I loved the book … even if it did make me cry … on the beach … in Naxos … into my Mojito. [Now] I want a follow-up book on what Charlotte did next!” – Melissa Gardiner

“The bath was the safest place to read Umbilicus – where my warm salty tears could mingle with the bath water … What a beautiful book … So brave to reveal your soul.” – Chantal Whiteford

“Brave book to write, and very authentic. I’m sure painful for you, but very insightful – I learned a lot! Look forward to the next one.” – June Williams

“My mom shared her electronic version of the book with me, asking me for my opinion, as we both love reading. Because the book is local, it immediately appealed … I found it fantastic that a book could open conversation between my mom and me about a topic we had never discussed before (and nothing is off limits with my mom!). The book is written in a manner that is easy to read and understand, and I finished it in a couple of hours. I think this book should be made available at High School level because not only does it open conversation, but it may help others when deciding to abort, to keep their baby, or consider adoption … A great book for discussion.” – PixieVixie, Grade 11

“Really cool. So many things that reminded me of growing up during those times – certain words, phrases, parental sayings. Connected with so much of it. I wasn’t adopted outright but only met my real father about 15 years ago. I went through the adoption process when I was about 8 or 9 as my mother insisted that my step-father adopt me. It didn’t work out, but that’s a long story for another time. My boys are growing up with both parents and all the love and support I never had.” – Marc

“If I fall asleep in the conference this morning, it’s all your fault! Stayed up till early hours finishing your book. Just couldn’t put it down!” – Ulrike Mann, GM of Ikholwa Children’s Home

“A really lovely local read. Looking forward to more!” – Terri Wentzel

“This is a lovely book and well worth reading. It gives an interesting account of an adoptee’s perspective on adoption.” – Friends of The Baby House Westville

“A very poignant memoir about adoption and the various people affected by it.” – Vernice Brown

“A bittersweet, well-crafted, inspirational read, written with incredible sensitivity, and guaranteed to spark some kind of conversation. If you’ve adopted a child, or you’re an adoptee, this is maybe something that you want to discuss around the dinner table.” – Samm Marshall, journalist, news anchor, presenter, media specialist at the SABC

“An interesting book and close to my heart. Would recommend it to any adoptees and families.” L Beckett

“This is the first book I’ve finished reading since my son was born six years ago, and I used to love reading! It’s a beautifully written story, with a big part to play in other people’s lives who have been through similar situations.” – Natasha

“What a good read. I like a book that gives you a lot to think about.” – Eileen Ross

“I started your book this morning and have already finished it [11:24am]. My eyes are damp!! What a moving gift for your child, and for the many parents and children caught in the convoluted kinks of adoption. I salute your fearless, Doc Marten-shod approach to a topic so often pirouetted around en pointe, and the sensitivities that accompany it, like the dainty frocks you wore with those Docs . . . Knowing parties on both sides of the equation down the years, [your birth father] as cousin and [your adoptive father] as paediatrician to my sons, made it all the more poignant. Thank you for sharing so candidly the insights of all involved – the letters were especially affecting.” – Glynis Horning, writer and editor

“A wonderful and informative read. Not only does it draw you in from the first page, it is also such an eye-opener about the adoption triad. I learnt a lot about how the respective parties in an adoption situation feel and react. It gave me a lot to think about. I would definitely recommend Umbilicus to anyone who has been involved with adoption. In my opinion, this gripping book is a must-have in the school curriculum. I really enjoyed it so much. I cannot wait for your next book to come out.” – Candice Knudsen

“I found this book very easy to read although Charlotte’s voice is written in the second person which does take some getting used to. The book is also well written and well paced. What I enjoyed is the sense that I was allowed to experience something very personal with all the characters involved . . . As someone who has opted not to bear her own children, but is open to adopting a child at a later stage, this book is profoundly insightful. There’s a saying ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets’; this book really reminded me of how keeping secrets to protect people often does the exact opposite.” – Gigliola Conte-Patel

“Gruben’s factual, cutting honesty in her account of a trying and testing time, complex coming of age, with a balanced understanding of what it is that fortifies or strips the measure of being each of us attempts to juggle, gives the reader a true insight into the challenges faced by people born into [adoption].” – Gari M Joubert, author

“What an emotional story – eish!! Loved reading it, especially as all the places you mention are relevant to me. It is so well written and has such a positive ending for all concerned.” – Lindy

“This book is so touching. You are a gift to this world.” – Sylvia

“I LOVED IT! You enlightened me about a subject I was very ignorant about, and your honesty was refreshing and inspiring. Thanks for writing it!” – Nicholas

“I don’t know how you managed to overcome the task of dealing with emotional, firsthand, raw material and transform it into a page-turner. You are such a gifted artist. I am so impressed. Bravo et encore!” – Gwenaëlle Verrier

“Incredible reading. Shed a few tears as well. Definitely a book I’ll recommend. Not only does it give insight on the adoptee and adoptive parents, but the biological parents as well! It’s going to help me to understand my daughter so much better in the future.” – Denise Oosthuizen, foster mom / prospective adoptive mom

“As an 80s goth girl I loved the references and had a good chuckle. I got totally immersed in your story. Thank you for sharing. My daughter has her paws on the book now.” – Tracy

“Definitely one of those ‘everything else can wait until I’m done with this’ kind of books … With four half-sisters (my father has five daughters, with five different women), this story was close to my heart. I have also grown up with friends who were adopted or have been through foster care and shelters, and they were incredibly shy or scared of others knowing, especially during high school. Seeing the paths chosen and decisions made by Paula sets a great example, like an angel on your shoulder helping to show you the way.” – Geraldine Lamaštu

“I feel like I am reliving my youth, reading your book. Love all the location references and history that you have entwined throughout, especially the one about Splashy Fen. My brother was one of the offenders that ended up in the ‘chook’ (as the Aussies say) for a little bit of recreational Mary Jane.” – Lara Cohen

“Wow! Thank you so much for your wonderful book. I read it in one sitting – others in our family are taking their turns in reading it.” – Liane

“I have been a bookaholic my whole life. My husband and I adopted our daughter almost six years ago, and I totally stopped reading. No time, thanks to all that comes with being a mom. I have tried reading over the past year, but after a few sentences I’d lose interest. Well that has all changed. I got your book for Mother’s Day. When I picked it up, I was addicted within a few sentences, and I had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep. Well done on an awesome book. You have cured me.” – Tanya, adoptive mom

“Insightful and delightful. Thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was extremely interesting to see adoption from everyone’s perspective. Would highly recommended this book to anyone.” – Chris

“The subject matter is a serious one, and I did enjoy reading Umbilicus. However, I’m not quite sure how to voice what I want to say, but I was expecting more, wanted more, wanted to feel … more. At certain instances, I simply felt short-changed. Certain scenes could have been further developed, fleshed out, given me more of that gut-wrenching angst Charlotte must surely have been feeling. I felt like she didn’t want to share too much of her pain, which kind of frustrated me. Overall, it was a good book.” – Sandra Valente, editor

“The beginning of this book was difficult to read – not in terms of the language, more the content, especially if you are considering [adoption] or have adopted. I loved reading the different perspectives within the journey of adoption. Full circle journey which makes it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in or dealing with adoption. There is surprisingly little written in this area.” – Karen Cockerill

“My girlfriend bought me your book for my birthday. I was adopted in 1976, and reading your story, it was as if you were writing about my life. There are so many out there sitting with the pain and torment of not knowing what happened to their birth parents. It’s like a hole that never gets filled. I never had the guts to go and look for my birth parents, but [after reading your book] I have made the decision it is now time, and all the questions I have can finally be answered. I just wanted to make contact and say a big thank you for writing this book.” – Hein, adoptee

“This book, on a topic I had no real interest for, not only got me hooked, but left its trace in my mind. The author’s story flows so easily you won’t realise it treats with care the subject of a universal bond and how deep it touches your heart until it is over too quickly.” – GV

“Written from the unusual second person point of view made me more empathetic to the agony of Charlotte’s journey. Paula writes with ease and her descriptions and characterisations make her story so real. Her dialogue passages read easily too and I breezed through her story in a few short hours. What’s so fulfilling about this story is how we, as readers, get to see all points of view in the complicated triad of adoption. Throughout the book, I found myself questioning and challenging my own feelings in order to understand the mindset of each member in the triad. Besides readers who are part of the triad, I believe Umbilicus is important and relevant to many other readers out there: for young adults who are too young to appreciate and understand the intricacies and long-term effects of unplanned pregnancies and the lives that follow; and for parents of adolescents who have the ultimate privilege of nurturing and supporting their children, especially during the trying and sometimes terrifying teenage years.” – Niki Malherbe

 

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