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