Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon

'I need these stories. Everyone else in here has memories to hold on to. Everyone else has things to think on to stop them getting squashed down to nothing. But I don't have memories of anywhere else, and all these days just squish into the same. I need their stories. I need them to make my memories.'


This was my first loan from the local library - after nearly a year and a half of living here, yes. And since the font is quite big and it has only 240 pages with many chapters, I read it in a couple of days. Mostly I read it in a nearby park when the weather was ridiculously warm and ice cream mandatory.

The Bone Sparrow is a book about ten-year old Rohingya boy Subhi, who was born in a refugee camp in Australia and has never known anything else. He's too old to be allowed to be a child (if he ever was young enough) but too young to accept the harsh reality of his surroundings. There's also Jimmie, who can't read the words her mum left behind, whose world has been off-balance since she died, who cannot see the point in anything anymore. One night, these two meet in a way that was much like The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. And they find that maybe they can make sense of the world together and bond over what they have in life.

The style is much like Room by Emma Donoghue in that Subhi's parts were quite childishly phrased, but I felt it fit the book, grounding you into always remembering how young he was and how the world around him didn't feel real yet. The chapter breaks are very often and Subhi and Jimmie alternate quickly and in an interesting pace. The first half of the book felt a bit slow, but the second half made up for it by being more emotional and heartfelt. All in all, it was a quick read and a pleasant little package. It was easy to like both Subhi and Jimmie, as well as the side characters. I don't feel like I hated anyone - except maybe the lack of humanity.

To the heavy stuff, then. It would be great if books like this weren't so important, so needed, so horribly real.

Naturally, the refugee camp is a horrible place. From food poisoning to hunger strikes, killings and violence, it's delicate but determined in the way it deals with the inhumane treatment of these people. Jimmie has a moment where she asks no one in particular how it can be illegal to want to live, and anyone reading this has to ask themselves the same question. It's surprisingly dark sometimes for the young people it was written for, but it didn't exactly step out of line. It was actually so horrible just because it's true.

This book is endorsed by Amnesty International, and there's even an information bit about them at the end. Sometimes it felt a bit too much like propaganda, but I understand what the author is saying about being inspired, if not even forced, to write this book because of the global refugee crisis, and more specifically, the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis. The book states, in its afterword, that the Rohingya are 'some of the most persecuted people on earth'. What can you say to that, really? Can you claim that because the book wasn't a new instant classic to be read by generations, that it was not important? This is, indeed, a book that needed to be written, and because of that, it's awfully difficult to give it a rating as a 'work of art'. My four stars are for that aspect of the book, but I won't let anyone say that I don't think this is one of the more important books I'll read this year.

How did I end up reading two books on refugees in a row? I'll have to chill down with this stuff.

Anyway! For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 46: A book by a writer from Oceania! (I was pretty excited as I realised that I could fill this in, I had been wondering when I'd get around to reading a book from Down Under!)

Also, I went and watched the whole of Thirteen Reasons Why (I know, why do I bother?) so if you want to go and read my thoughts I thought I'd make a separate post again to compare the book vs. the tv show? I'll get to typing that in a bit, we'll see if it happens. I have a world full of complaints though.

(This post is starting to look like a wiki page with all these links, sorry about that!)

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