This is a really interesting novel about survival and what it is like to flee your own country and end up as a refugee. Cotterill has written a bold and important story which tells us the plight of Amina who lives in a developing country under an oppressive ruling "Kwana". It appears to be a fictional place and remains non specific which I did find a little confusing to start with but appreciate that Cotterill really wants to explore the human story behind the family's struggle rather than make a political statement or stick to factual events.
The story begins with the aggressive intervention of the Kwana as the girls are unsuspectingly just walking home. Their mother is immediately suspicious: "Why did they pick on you?" "I was smiling....I looked too happy." The Kwana don't need an excuse and Amina's response is almost flippant in her acceptance that this is just how it is. "Nobody cares what I think," she continues, "The Kwana have taken away everything women had had- jobs, rights, freedom - when they came to power". Amina and her sister have to stop going to school and her mother has to give up her job.
Cotterill doesn't shy away from the more shocking aspects of a controlling, militant ruling power and the story of Amina's brother, Ruman, is distressing and upsetting even though it is a powerful and necessary part of the plot.
The fear and hopelessness of the characters is palpable, their need to escape but with nowhere to escape to is well captured. The description of the refugee camps is convincing and clearly well researched and despite the sense of location throughout the novel generally remaining (deliberately) a little hazy, the scenes within the camp are very easy to visualise.
Amina remains a positive and optimistic character as much as she can and turns to the power of storytelling to help the people survive the atrocities. As in her other novel "The Library of Lemons", Cotterill shows us the power of stories, imagination and sharing in books to heal, unite, reassure and calm.
This is a moving story. It is one which will remain with you. It is poignant and definitely an important read for the now. It would be a good book to use in the classroom or with a young adult reading group because of the issues raised and also because of the characters and their fortitude.
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