All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Daughter Of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson

on May 23, 2019

Daughter Of Bad Times
Rohan Wilson
Allen & Unwin
2019, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

‘What better pitch than helping the refugees of the world? Who doesn’t want to help refugees, right? The five Australian facilities are immigration detention centres, sure, but they’re also manufacturing plants. That means two revenue streams for one facility. And we also clean up our image. We’re not just a corrections company anymore-now, we’re building communities, we’re saving lives.’

Rin Braden is almost ready to give up on life after the heartbreaking death of her lover Yamaan and the everyday dread of working for her mother’s corrupt private prison company. But through a miracle Yamaan has survived.

Yamaan turns up in an immigration detention facility in Australia, trading his labour for a supposedly safe place to live. This is no ordinary facility, it’s Eaglehawk MTC, a manufactory built by her mother’s company to exploit the flood of environmental refugees.

Now Rin must find a way to free Yamaan before the ghosts of her past and a string of bad choices catch up with them both.

In its vision of the future, Daughter of Bad Times explores the truth about a growing inhumanity as profit becomes the priority.

Well, this was concerning.

Futuristic novels can be hard to do because it’s difficult to get a realistic picture on what the world is going to look like in 50, 75, 100, 200 years time. After all, remember Back To The Future? Everyone thought there’d be flying cars by now. Rohan Wilson doesn’t particularly go grandiose with this novel, set in the year 2075. Instead he takes a few things that are happening in the here and now…..and amplifies them.

Climate change and refugees. Elections are won and lost on the policies swirling around those two issues. In 2075, an earthquake and tsunami has wiped out the Maldives and surrounding regions, all those low lying islands. Those that weren’t killed ended up in refugee camps in places like Sri Lanka – until a company stepped forward with a plan. They would take those that were physically able and house them for a year, putting them to work in factories. When the year was up, they would be granted asylum status in places like Australia, having paid a debt to society. But it isn’t until the refugees arrive to work that they realise it’s not that simple. Everything they do incurs a debt to the company – every meal, every toiletry, every single time they don’t meet their targets, they are penalised. And they cannot be freed until they have paid that debt. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out it’s structured in such a way that the debts can never be paid.

The thing is, this might be 50 years into the future but to me, what’s surprising is only the fact that someone hasn’t thought of this already. Refugees aren’t treated kindly here, especially those who arrive by boat – “queue jumpers” they’re called, economic refugees who have paid people to bring them here “illegally”, they are basically incarcerated in camps on places like Christmas Island and Manus Island. Sending the problem offshore where it can be out of sight, out of mind. I’m honestly surprised that someone hasn’t decided to put the people to work doing menial tasks in order to most profit from their situation. And it’s the perfect way to keep them happy…..because they think they’re going to do their time and be released. But in reality, they aren’t and the government doesn’t have to worry about them.

Rin’s mother owns the company that has the refugee ‘factories’ and she’s worked her way up from the bottom. The company also owns private prisons and Rin has done the hard yards at a guard at one of the prisons. Her mother was horrified when she discovered that Rin was having a relationship with a man who was employed to serve them in their Maldives holiday home and after the tsunami, Rin believes Yamaan to be dead – until she realises he’s in a facility in Tasmania, currently working off his ‘debt’ to the company. Rin travels to Tasmania to free him, to pay his debt and get him out, only to step into a situation of escalating rebellion and violence as the refugees realise they’ll never be allowed to go free. The novel alternates between Yamaan and Rin, giving their background romance, Rin’s unusual upbringing and the circumstances of Yamaan being in the Tasmanian immigration detention centre.

The de-humanising of refugees is already a thing, shunting them away on islands, talking up how they don’t deserve to be here and how they a) take your jobs b) will live on welfare with their 200 family members they sponsor and bring over or c) will kill you because they are probably terrorists infiltrating under sympathy and want to destroy the infidels. You only have to look at the difference in coverage and discussion surrounding a terrorist act done by a person of colour and one done by a white perpetrator. The differences are marked. The idea that this sort of solution would be acceptable actually isn’t a stretch of the imagination at all and I appreciated the way all of that was done, how the company seems like a saviour but really are only serving their own interests and the conditions are as brutal as you would expect.

Where I felt the novel did start to lose me, was deep into Rin’s background and the way in which she’d been raised. Her CEO mother isn’t particularly a well fleshed out character and I don’t really felt like the reader got much of a chance to get a handle on her and why she did what she did concerning Rin. It began to take up way too much page time towards the end of the book and I found my attention wandering a little because I honestly wasn’t invested in that particular part of the story at all and it didn’t seem to be doing much in terms of helping to establish Rin’s character. I was actually surprised at the depth of feeling that Rin ended up profession for Yamaan because she seemed so difficult to reach, almost like a cardboard cut out of a person. I actually felt like it was trying to tell two stories – Rin’s childhood/upbringing/what went on there and the story of Yamaan and the exposure of the deception of the immigration detention centres and the two didn’t always mesh together in a cohesive way.

I felt that this novel had a bit of a strong ‘this is where we might be going’ message but at times that got a bit confused as other plot points took over. I enjoyed it and saw it as a scary possibility, both in terms of these islands disappearing and what on earth will happen to the people that populated them. Depressing, really, especially given how low lying a huge portion of our country is. This could be us, as well. But hey, franking credits!


Book #74 of 2019

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