Read of the Week

Lion (A long way home)

Saroo Brierly

Penguin

Review: Chantel Erfort

Lion, originally published as A long Way Home in 2013, was adapted for screen and released recently, so I thought what better time to read – and review – Saroo Brierly’s phenomenal story than now.

While the book itself is not particularly well written, I appreciate the simple way in which the story is told, and the authenticity and sincerity conveyed in Brierly and his ghost writer’s work.

Lion is the story of young Saroo – five at the time, and with no knowledge of his surname or where exactly he lives – who gets lost after boarding a train and ending up in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), many kilometres away.

After spending a number of months on the streets – and escaping some dangerous situations – Saroo ends up, first in a juvenile detention centre and later in an orphanage.

It is here that he meets a woman who changes his life when she arranges for him to be adopted by an Australian family.

The second half of the book deals largely with Saroo’s life in Australia, his assimilation into the Aussie way of life and the increasing distance that exists between him and Indian culture.

Despite Saroo’s maintained efforts to hold on to his memories of his family in India and to one day find them, it is only in his mid- to late-20s that he intensifies his search, using Google Earth and eventually Facebook, to track them down.

About seven years after first encountering the mapping software, Saroo deviates from his pre-determined search parameters and something amazing happens – he finds home.

While one might argue that there were much easier and less convoluted ways of tracking down his family, I kept having to remind myself that the only recollections he had to work with, were those of a poverty-stricken, uneducated five-year-old who struggled to communicate with the adults he encountered because he spoke Hindi, while they spoke Bengali – and because the internet applications we use today are far more sophisticated than they were when Saroo was searching for his home town.

Most interesting for me were the parts of the book describing the frustratingly simple mistakes that prevented five-year-old Saroo from getting back home, and which became apparent to him only when he returned to India 25 years later. To find out what these were, you’ll have to read the book.

The accounts of his reunion with his family raised the hairs on the back of my neck – as did the selection of photographs included after the last chapter.

The movie, Lion, stars Nicole Kidman as Sue Brierly and Dev Patel in the role of Saroo.