a long way home

Review From User :

5
I remember hearing about this story when it 'broke' a few years ago, and then it surfaced again when Nicole Kidman starred in the movie LION, and the rest will, no doubt, be history.

First, I have to say that although I already knew the bones of the story, as so many potential readers may, it only made the reading that much more enjoyable. Ghost-writer Larry Buttrose isn't listed on the cover although he's credited "with Larry Buttrose" inside.

The Goodreads description is the first four introductory pages of the book. It is so long and thorough, you can get a good idea of what it sounds like. (Read that, if you haven't.) Saroo tells his own story, and I think Buttrose has captured his tone and feelings well.

Saroo (he doesn't know his last name) is five, gets lost in Calcutta (as Kolkata was then known), is eventually adopted by Aussies in Tasmania, and rediscovers his birth family using Google maps. Each step of his convoluted journey to Australia makes the outcome even more unbelievable. Just surviving was quite an achievement

His experience makes a wonderful, terrible, terrifying, exhilarating and ultimately satisfying adventure, but there are certainly dark undertones about the children loose on the streets in India. I can't say they are "neglected", because that makes it sound as if there's a choice that they wouldn't be.

Saroo's mother (dad left with a surprise second wife) works carrying stones on her head for construction sites, leaving 5-year-old Saroo at home to mind his even younger little sister while two older brothers beg and scavenge for food. It's just the way it was (and is). They are always hungry and live in a shed with a cow-pat floor.

Hindi was his native language, but typical of many small children in desperately poor areas of the world, he had very little vocabulary to work with when he was found. Many refugee children arrive in Australia with little language or smatterings of several but command of none.

"Mum had always been fascinated by India and knew something about the conditions many people were living under there: in 1987 Australia's population was 17 million, and that same year in India, around 14 million children under the age of ten died from illness or starvation. While obviously adopting one child was merely a drop in the ocean, it was something they could do. And it would make a huge difference to that one child. They chose India."

His mum (as he always refers to Sue Brierley), had a violent childhood, but Dad, John Brierley, had a happy upbringing, which gave stability to the family. They were in complete agreement about what they wanted to do together.

The story moves back and forth, quite naturally, from Saroo's memories to his searches to today, and it's amazing how much and how well he remembered. But it wasn't by accident.

He replayed everything he did and everywhere he went in his mind, so he wouldn't forget. As soon as he woke up lost in Calcutta, he tried to replay his memories of accidentally falling asleep on a train so he might figure out where it came from. He hopped on every train he could find, but with no luck.

Later, growing up in Tasmania, he continued to practice retracing everything in his mind, as a kind of meditation, from walking around his village, to crawling into hiding places (sewer pipes - yuck!), to escaping dogs, sexual predators, and organ collectors! The odds on his surviving intact were slim indeed. But he never forgot all the landmarks he'd committed to memory. At FIVE!

As I said, knowing these details won't affect the fun you'll have reading his story and enjoying the many photos that accompany it. Unfortunately, the adoption process takes longer than it did in the 1980s, but he says it's quicker if you don't demand a certain age or gender. If any Aussies are interested: http://www.intercountryadoption.gov.au/

I bet there'll be a surge in demand as more people see the movie, LION, (the meaning of his name, Sheru, in Hindi). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_(2...

The Wikipedia article about Larry Buttrose has a nice story about how he worked on the book. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_B...

"His best known book is A Long Way Home, the Saroo Brierley memoir, which he ghost-wrote in 2012. He researched and wrote the book between September and December of that year, including research trips to Hobart to interview Saroo and his family, and a month-long journey to India with Saroo. There he met Saroo's Indian family, and travelled with Saroo on a rail journey across India, retracing for the first time the journey that Saroo took two and a half decades before as a young child, that ended him in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Buttrose completed the book in his Kolkata hotel room, and emailed the manuscript to the publishers Penguin on the date of the deadline."

Terrific book, unbelievable story from an amazing memory, wonderfully told! (Oh, am I gushing)


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