All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

No Place Like Home – Caroline Overington

on October 2, 2013

No Place Like HomeNo Place Like Home
Caroline Overington
Random House AU
2013, 230p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Just after 9:30am a young man walks into a shopping centre in Bondi in Sydney. It’s still early, so the shopping centre is relatively quiet and although he is noticed, he doesn’t attract any attention until he reaches the fourth floor. His odd behaviour alerts security but as they are on their way up to perhaps apprehend him and see what he’s up to, he trips outside a lingerie store, knocking down a young worker from the manicure place next door. A 12yo schoolboy trips over them and the worker from the lingerie store scoops them all inside, perhaps thinking she’s doing the right thing, seeing what’s going on and if they’re ok. Security monitoring the floor immediately lockdown the lingerie store, locking them inside and it is then that the woman working there realises that the young man who knocked the manicurist over has something chained around his neck, underneath his oversized hoodie: a bomb.

Paul is a former parish priest now working as the police chaplain. He is called to the scene by the officer in charge after they arrive on the fourth floor and have cleared the area. There is a bad feeling about the situation – four people (later discovered to be five) locked inside a lingerie store, one of the people with a crude homemade bomb around his neck. Technology these days makes it relatively easy to identify everyone at the scene and it isn’t long before they have names, next of kin and almost the entire life story of those that are trapped.

The young man with the bomb is Ali Khan, an Australian citizen who was plucked from a refugee camp in Africa. They are unable to determine what he wants – he won’t speak to them, he doesn’t appear to even understand them. He hasn’t uttered a single word the entire time. This situation doesn’t appear to be going to end well – it’s hard to negotiate with someone who won’t – or can’t – tell you what the problem is, what they want and how it can be resolved.

The minutes tick by and those watching hold their breath as someone within the shop makes an attempt to reach out. Can the situation be diffused by someone untrained, simply by caring or will it all end in tragedy?

It seems like this, Caroline Overington’s fifth book couldn’t come at a more politically relevant time. As the country settles into a new government, the topic of asylum seekers aka “boat people” remains a contentious one. Since the days of John Howard, there’s been a steady build up against those coming to this country by boat and the average person seems to believe we’ll be inundated by millions of them at any given moment, sweeping in to take our houses, jobs and all of the country’s money. In this novel, Ali Khan is was a refugee. He was granted Australian citizenship after being declared at risk in his native country of Tanzania due to being an albino black person. The culture describes such people as evil, devil spirits and they are persecuted, beaten and often killed for black magic as some witchdoctors claim their bones, ground down to a powder, cure AIDS.

What happened to Ali Khan when he arrived in Australia isn’t hard to imagine. He had no kin to greet him. Others of his culture feared and even loathed him. The relevant authorities and groups simply had no idea what to do with him. He didn’t speak and had little idea how to adapt to life in his new country, so different from the wire cage he was kept in at the refugee camp that hosted 40,000 people. He was bounced from home stay to a hotel and finally to a detention centre where he languished for years, despite being a citizen, despite never having actually done anything wrong.

Told in a simple fashion by Paul, the police chaplain, this book introduces all of the key people and explains how they came to be there on that day at that time and how their lives propelled them towards this precise moment. The story of Ali Khan that unfolds is so desperately sad and shows how one person can slip through the cracks of various organisations, who don’t know what to do with them. In being granted a new life in Australia, he should’ve left persecution, heartbreak, pain and suffering behind but instead he experienced just as much, if not more in his new life. It made me wonder just what do we do with people that come here, alone? Where do they go? How do they find places to live, English courses, jobs, etc? The one person they organised to come and help Ali Khan couldn’t even be in the same room as him because of the stigma his condition/appearance carried. But no one else was organised to really help him, to be kind to him, to show him the new ways of life that we take for granted here. He had never seen a shower before, didn’t know how to use one. He lasted a very short amount of time in home stay because his landlord was ill equipped for the role, something that hadn’t been noticed despite her string of failures taking in overseas paying students.

This is a sad book on so many levels. Sad because what happened could have and should have been avoided. There were so many things involved in driving the events forward until they reached that horrible conclusion that were a breakdown of responsibilities by so many people and departments. It shows the judgement he faced, before officers knew the full story and even after, in the media and just in the general public.  Once again Caroline Overington has taken a subject and an issue and spun a story around it that encourages the reader to see beyond what is so often portrayed, to see the people inside the story and behind it. And it’s done very well.

8/10

Book #255 of 2013

AWW2013No Place Like Home is book #92 for the Australian Womens Writers Challenge.

 

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7 responses to “No Place Like Home – Caroline Overington

  1. Thank you 1Girl! It’s alway a treat to read your reviews and especially when you’ve taken the time to read a book of mine. I’m grateful to you.

  2. On my “to read” list for sure!

  3. melaxinyi says:

    Ah, I googled the book and your review popped up! Just read Marg’s review, then yours… really want to read it even more now!

  4. […] Other reviews of No Place Like Home: Book’d Out; Devoted Eclectic; Musings of Monique; All The Books I Can Read […]

  5. […] Bree of All The Books I Can Read writes, Overington,  “has taken a subject and an issue and spun a story around it that encourages the reader to see beyond what is so often portrayed, to see the people inside the story and behind it.” and Monique of Write Note Reviews  praises the author for  “taking a topical issue and turning it into something readers can’t avoid.” Marg of The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader agreed with Heidi of ..butbooksarebetter who “thought that Overington’s choice of protagonist was extremely clever.” and Helen McKenna  makes the point that Overington’s writing style is “simple and concise and very easy to read” . […]

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