Gripping, and disturbing read…
Australian writer Caroline Brothers lives in Paris, and is a foreign correspondent for two US papers. She has also worked as a journalist in other parts of Europe and South America. Brothers wrote a non-fiction book, War and Photography, back in 1997, and Hinterland is her first novel.
The first thing that struck me about Brothers’ book was her stimulating use of language , and her ability to bring the various worlds that surround the characters of this book vividly alive. In fact, her descriptive skills rather outshine her character-building ones, I think; the two boys at the heart of this book didn’t quite engage me as real people.
The novel tells the story of two Afghan brothers, a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old, as they struggle to cross various countries on their journey from Turkey to England. Other members of the brothers’ family have been murdered, and the two have spent some time in Iran before deciding that England is the place where they’ll be safe. Their much-interrupted quest veers between encounters with greedy and evil people and those who perform what can only be described as random acts of kindness. Policemen invariably appear as men to be feared and avoided. A sense of family and community permeates the book, but for these boys family is a fragile thing, and community only just exists.
While the book grips the reader – more so than I expected it would – it’s primarily social conscience writing. I suspect the author hopes that after reading this book we’ll do something towards changing the way in which refugees like the two brothers are treated. But the sense of hopelessness that clouds everything they achieve makes this a big ask. Where do you start with this enormous problem? Does allowing people to move from one country to another actually help them? Do Aid agencies have a hope of dealing with this increasing exodus?
I guess if the book makes us ask these questions, it has achieved its purpose.