AUTHOR = NEIL GRANT
GENRE = REFUGEES, AFGHANISTAN, RACISM, MULTICULTURALISM, FRIENDSHIP
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12
A compelling and moving book about intolerance and compassion. In Afghanistan young Omed incurs the wrath of the Taliban and must flee his home, his village and his country. Unable to speak (due to Taliban cruelty) Omed must rely on the sneaky, shady Snake to find a way over the sea to Australia. And when he gets there he is thrown into the brutal life of a detention centre and struggles to maintain his sanity and sense of self.
Meanwhile, in suburban Melbourne another teenage boy (Hec) also lives in a world without words. However, Hec’s silence seems to be self-imposed, a response to some emotional trauma which is only gradually revealed.
The two boys meet in a candle factory where the work is tedious and the workplace poisonous. Many of the workers are refugees or immigrants and they are not always welcomed with open arms by their Aussie colleagues.
The first half of this novel can be a tough read as it focusses on Omed’s heartbreaking struggle to stay alive in a world that is both frightening and cruel. Yet despite the bleakness, Omed’s integrity and determination shines through as well as the beauty of Neil Grant’s writing. A sense of place is vividly portrayed by Grant: whether it be rural Bamiyan, modern day Kabul or Melbourne. And the characters are equally credible; we care about their journeys and the outcome of their stories. Grant also cleverly creates a different voice for the teenaged Hec and the adult Hec, which adds to the believability of the tale.
A thought provoking and powerful novel.
And if you enjoyed this novel you might like to read other books about refugees such as “The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif” in which Robert Hillman helps Najaf Mazari tell his story of eape from the Taliban. Or the powerful “From Kinglake to Kabul” edited by the author of The Ink Bridge, Neil Grant (accompanied by David Williams).
This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).
Highly Recommended (dma) *****