HINTERLAND by Caroline Brothers

A few years ago I read 'In the Sea There Are Crocodiles' by an Italian novelist Fabio Geda, telling the real life story of Enaiatollah Akbar, a ten year old Afghan boy who treks from Afghanistan, mostly alone, finally finding refuge in Italy. Harrowing, frightening, inspiring, I can't begin to contemplate the awfulness of this child's journey. I remember the raw courage and bravery of this boy, his blind faith and trust in those he meets on his journey. And especially the kindness of random strangers to a lone child, although he was not always met with kindness.

This book tells a similar story of two boys, brothers Aryan and Kabir, fleeing the Taliban with just their clothes. Caroline Brothers is a foreign correspondent and has first hand experience of the war-ravaged places on our planet. She has been very moved by her contacts with children who are refugees, travelling alone or in small groups across the Middle East and Europe, putting their lives into the hands of others, trusting their gut feelings in the process, sometimes with a good outcome, sometimes not.

Unlike Geda who tells the story of just one boy, Brothers has taken the stories of many children she has come across, and put them all into the story of the two brothers, and a few other characters in the novel. I can see why she does this, to inform the reader as much as possible of the terrible times of thousands of children making the treacherous journey from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, to reach a safe haven anywhere in the west. But I actually think something is lost in doing this, almost as if in her despair and urgency to tell the world about the appalling situation of child refugees, she has tried to cram too many events, traumas, anecdotes into the lives of two small boys. So much happens to these children, too much, I found it overwhelming. I imagine this is the purpose of her writing, but there was little time or space for a breath or to process  the awfulness of the refugee situation in Europe. She has done a marvellous job, but do not read this to be uplifted or inspired. It does not. And it does not give any answers either on what we in the West, could or should be doing. Despair is the overriding feeling I got when reading this. But we do need to be informed, and she has succeeded in this. 

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