Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

‘Okay, okay, you’re right. Australians aren’t very bright. They don’t work hard. They drink too much. So you tell me. Why are they so rich?’

‘They sailed in big wooden ships one hundred years ago and stole all our money from us.’

Amnesty, page 111

4/5 stars

I’ve read a lot of immigration-related books this year, both fiction and nonfiction–it’s an important issue and as an immigrant myself, I want to amplify the voices and experiences of those who haven’t experienced the UK immigration system with the privilege I have.

Amnesty is set over the course of one day, focusing on Danny, a house cleaner in Sydney who has overstayed his visa and is hoping to avoid detection and deportation back to Sri Lanka. He has found a comfortable life for himself, observing and mimicking the Australian way of life and wooing his girlfriend Sonja. His world becomes uprooted when he finds out that one of his clients has been murdered, and his position as a silent observer of the Sydney elite might give him an important tip about the crime. But if he comes forward, he could be risking it all.

Adiga is a talented writer, capturing the varied settings with rich description and stream-of-consciousness focus, with a real sense of place and a clear sense of pride in his work. The story is simple, and the reader gets a real sense of Danny’s anxiety as he weighs his decision. This book felt so transportive, I was right alongside Danny as he travelled around Sydney, glimpsing other people’s lives through his cleaning work and battling the everyday frustrations of being undocumented. Amnesty is a book with lots to say–on cultural divides, racism, the “good” immigrants versus the “bad”, and the ways people can take advantage of systems to prey on the vulnerable.

This book definitely requires an affinity for stream-of-consciousness narratives–the writing is quite stylised and requires sharp focus to follow the plot despite the overall simplicity of the narrative. There are a lot of frustrating, will-he-or-won’t-he moments that keep you hooked, but if you like your fiction tied up neatly, this probably isn’t the book for you–reflecting the often-complicated life of an immigrant torn between cultures, countries, and bureaucracies.

This also serves as a great introduction to the #Read22ForRefugees challenge I am participating in on Bookstagram, lead by @martha_is_reading and @e.f.paterson from 9-30 September. To commemerate the 22 mile journey refugees make across the Channel every year to come to the UK, we are all developing our own reading challenges to raise money for Refugee Action. I’ll be reading 22 pages or 22% of an e-book every day of the challenge. Find out more on my Instagram!


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