Book Review: Lion by Saroo Brierley (Previously published as A Long Way Home)

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I opted for the memoir by Saroo Brierley, instead of going to a theatre to see the movie based on it. After moving to a new city where I need to drive to go anywhere, grabbing a book of my choice became more convenient than catching a latest movie. Also, I also wanted compare the protagonist’s authentic account and the screenwriter’s liberty when I see the movie.

Memoirs written by non-professional writers are easy to follow, but relatively lacks literary effects. I liked Saroo’s natural and plain narration, but the chronological order of the book somewhat downplayed the emotional side of his story, as Saroo’s present life in Australia must have been closer to him psychologically than his early childhood in India before searching for his lost home. The story could have been of more literary value had it taken the structure of frame story, possibly including an opening with fully grown Saroo in Australia reflecting on his origin and distant memories in India. However, lack of literary techniques did not make Saroo’s story any less powerful,  as the series of pure events he experienced were remarkable for their own sake.

His little use of literary techniques doesn’t mean that he did not try to make his story interesting.

I was somewhat skeptical about the lengthy account of getting lost in the train station and the following events leading to his adoption in Australia: How was he able to relive such details of the events that happened 25 years ago? This is the same problem I always have with almost any memoirs: how much can a memoir be authentic? I have no doubt about big chunks of the story, but how many details actually happened? His descriptions of the old man who saved him from the river and the teenage boy who turned him to police sound truthful (as Saroo thanked them several times in the book). On the other hand, his narrow escape from possible abductors was likely to have happened, but there’s room for speculation. Saroo had complete freedom in retelling his story, as well as in making a few more details up to make his story more dramatic and interesting, probably with encouragement or direction of the publisher. This type of possible addition did not require any literary techniques, as Saroo told these events as naturally as the rest of the book. The issue of ‘authenticity of the memoir genre’ must be a big topic for debate elsewhere.

**Spoilers Alert **

In the end, I was happy for Saroo for his incredible luck that always led him into the right direction, including Mrs. Sood, the Brierleys, his Indian friends, Google Earth, and many others.  Having also raised in two cultures, I sincerely agreed with Saroo’s contemplation on his “two homes.”

As I spent more time with my family and reconnected with the place where I’d been born, I thought about the word everyone kept using, including me–“home.” Was that where I was now, or was it where I’d come from?
I don’t know. After being lost, I’d been lucky enough to be adopted by a loving family […] in Australia; I thought of myself as an Australian. I had a family home with the Brierleys and had made my own home in Hobart with my girlfriend, Lisa. I knew I belonged, and was loved, in those places.
But finding […] my Indian family also felt like coming home. […] I was loved here, too, and belonged in a way I’d […] found hard to explain now. This was […]  where my blood was. (p. 220)

He is one of the luckiest adoptees I know, for having found his blood family sincerely welcoming him after so many years. I’ve heard about so many unfortunate stories of fully grown adoptees yearning for their birth parents who would normally refuse to meet them or try to take advantage of them out of poverty. If something had gone wrong in Saroo’s life, he wouldn’t have the happy ending that made his story remarkable. I sincerely wish that his happiness with his “two homes” would last ever after.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but my next choice should be something with more lasting effects…


Brierley, Saroo. Lion: Previously published as A Long Way Home.  Movie Tie-In Edition. Penguin Books Canada

 

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Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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All I knew about the Columbine tragedy came from the 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine. Having raised and lived in countries where gun violence is extremely rare, I paid relatively little attention to ‘Columbine Tragedy’ when choosing this book. I approached A Mother’s Reckoning, a bestselling memoir of the mother of one of the shooters in the Columbine massacre, purely as a book about parenting.

 

When a horrifying massacre happens, my prayers go to the perpetrator’s family as much as to the victims’. No one would raise a kid to be a mass killer. How could they live the rest of their lives with such guilt?
I believe Sue Klebold was a good mother who truly loved her son Dylan. I believe Sue gave and taught her son everything to be a good person, but it was not enough to keep Dylan from killing others and himself.Why?

 

Sue’s story was a series of her failures to recognize Dylan’s secrets through his attempts to conceal them. My question was this: why did she fail to detect his secrets, despite all the signs he showed? He got into trouble at school multiple times and even committed a crime to be arrested by police. Throughout these events, Sue failed to identify and resolve the fundamental problem with Dylan that led him to the massacre. I don’t hold her accountable for the tragedy, but my final impression of Sue was an ineffective disciplinarian who didn’t have the power to prevent any further delinquencies of her child. Simply put, she was clearly NOT in power over her relationship with her son. Dylan was in control of the relationships with his parents and that was, in my view, what enabled his deviance. Despite Sue’s best efforts as a good parent, Dylan was free from any authority that could have imposed a clear moral direction on him.  She clearly didn’t have any power over Dylan’s thoughts and behaviour.

 

The below scene best illustrates the abnormal power structure of the relationship between Dylan and Sue:

 

… I tried to get him to talk about himself, but Dylan answered my questions as briefly as possible, then asked me about my job and my life. He was so adept at listening that I did not see how skillfully he turned the focus of the conversation away from himself.  Before our pancakes were cold, I was babbling about my artwork, my job, and my dreams for the future without recognizing how deftly he had shielded his inner life. (202)

 

Notice how easily Sue was manipulated by Dylan’s attempt to keep her away from his thoughts. Dylan was controlling the conversation, not Sue who should have been in command as the elder and lawgiver.
Maybe it was simply the matter of Dylan’s and Sue’s own personalities that determined the nature of their relationship. Maybe Sue was too benevolent by nature or Dylan was too self-reliant to be governed by anyone, including his parents. But I couldn’t help thinking that if Dylan had been put under a strong direction and guidance, or had a positive role model he could look up to, he wouldn’t have committed such a crime. Sue claims she gave the best moral lessons she could, but clearly they didn’t stick to Dylan’s mind. The scene following Dylan’s arrest illustrates how Sue’s moral lessons were just empty words to Dylan:

 

…Appealing to his empathy, I asked him how he’d feel if someone stole from him. “Dylan, if you follow no other rules in your life, at least follow the Ten Commandments: thou shalt not skill, thou shalt not steal.” I paused to consider which of the other commandments might have relevance, and then decided to stop haranguing him. “Those are rules to live by.” 
 He said, “I know that.”
 We sat in silence for a little while. Then I said, “Dyl, you’re scaring me. How can I be sure you’ll never do such a thing again?” He said he didn’t know[.] (196)

 

In this particular scene after perhaps the most serious misconduct of her child before the massacre, Sue was not teaching or disciplining her child; She was practically begging. I don’t think Sue’s mere quoting of the Ten Commandments had any effect on Dylan. This scene is a clear illustration of Sue’s failure to discourage Dylan to participate in any future crimes. I think Sue’s biggest failure was letting Dylan have the power over their relationship that basically enabled him to ignore everything she had taught him.

 

I respected Sue’s honesty and courage, but concluded that her perspective is limited to fully comprehend Dylan’s true motives. Maybe Sue was the least capable person in the world of seeing him objectively; after all, he was her own child. She is still struggling to understand her child, and probably will be so for the rest of her life.

 

I’m not yet a parent yet, so I might be more capable of emphasizing with Dylan than Sue. Parents may give so much to their children, but the children may not benefit from them. I feel sorry for Dylan for not caring to be a proud son.
Having a child of my own is one of my dreams. A Mother’s Reckoning taught me that it takes a lot more than love and care to successfully raise a child.

Reference:
Klebold, Sue. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. New York:Crown Publishers, 2016.