Title: Walk in My Shoes
Author: Alwyn Evans
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Australian authors, Biographies
Publisher: Penguin Books
5th sentence, 74th page: Not wanting to disturb Zahra again, I didn’t speak, but carefully rolled onto my side, untwining myself from her clinging arms and legs, and willing sleep to rescue me.
A powerful and moving story of one family’s courageous journey. An inspiring novel for all Australians.
We walked off the ferry along the wide, sloping gangplank, and when my feet hit the firm wooden planks of the juetty I staggered, legs suddenly feeling like jelly… Taking Mum’s hand, I whispered, ‘Are we really safe, here?’
After a perilous and terrifying escape from war-torn Afghanistan, Gulnessa and her family find themselves in Australia, a place they know nothing about. They are exhausted and traumatised, but so full of hope. At last, somewhere safe to call home.
But their struggle isn’t over yet. They are confined in a detention centre for asylum seekers and forced to prove their refugee status. As days drag into weeks and months, Gulnessa is determined to stay strong. She must keep her family together, and fight for her friend Abdul – with whom she has secretly fallen in love. She cannot give up hope for a second chance at life, and the opportunity to build a future in a new land.
I remember reading this book when I was a younger kid. I remember loving it and being a little more aware of the world around me as I read this. However, having reread this story as a more educated adult, I was a little uncomfortable. Which is a good thing, I’m far more socially and politically aware now, and this is a story about refugees and refugee camps in Australia. I think if it doesn’t make you at least a little uncomfortable as a person, or even an Australian, you’re maybe not getting the point of the story…
Although this is a fictional biography, it is based on true events. Evans spent years researching and interviewing refugee experiences in Australia and the camps. The politics, which I was, quite honestly, unaware of are horrific and far-reaching, the experiences worse than anything that I could imagine. Which is where the uncomfortable feelings come from. Yet, for all of the fact that this is quite a scary retelling, this personal story is filled with hope and love. Nessa is able to retell her tale with a sense of joy. Her tale is horrifying, and she talks about her suffering, but she is also able to find her golden memories and keep those. She tells of her hope for the future and a better life. And her love for Abdul.
This story is split into two parts – Nessa’s time in the camp (and flashbacks to their journey to Australia) and her life after the camp. It gives a clear distinction to the experiences of refugees – there is the horror before and during their stay in camps, and then the confusion and feeling of uncertainty that is forced upon them afterwards. Not only are they two different worlds in which Nessa and her family struggle to find their place and learn the new ‘rules’, but they are systems of personal anguish that work at controlling their experiences and dehumanising them to others.
I loved this book, but I think that what I loved most about it was it helped me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It’s a great way to experience something that I myself will never experience and enhances the feeling of compassion and care that we should all strive to feel for others.
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