A book that will speak to adults and children alike, this is a timely reminder of our common humanity and the need to show compassion for others where we can.
Nine year old Subhi is Rohingya, but has only ever known the inside of the detention centre in Australia where he lives. Through his constant questioning of others in the camp he learns their stories of life outside the centre. Subhi’s voice is distinctive, though he remains innocent of the knowledge of what is happening and how so many came to be in this compound with him. He describes – with touching simplicity – the routines of his life and slowly reveals some of the horrors that those he talks to have experienced.
This book has been likened to ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne, but I found it interesting that our narrator is the boy who has nothing. Witnessing the events through the eyes of Subhi means we get a real understanding of the deprivation these people are experiencing on a daily basis. However, unlike Bruno in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ Jimmie does not come from a privileged background – she is much more an Everyman-character, and this forces us as the reader to imagine ourselves in her shoes. I enjoyed the moment when Jimmie first meets Subhi and they strike up an immediate friendship. In their own way, each has something to offer the other though their friendship is not something either can share with the people around them.
As an adult reader I turned the pages with a sense of mounting horror at what I felt was the inevitable climax to the novel. Subhi’s innocence means we are never given overly graphic details-things are explained in such a way that suggest he is making sense of what he sees, and it’s up to us to fill in the blanks. Subhi gets to save Jimmie, but he also has to come to terms with his inability to protect his friend Eli.
Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication. It’s a book I’ll be urging people to read.