A Long Way Home: A Boy’s Incredible Journey from India to Australia and Back Again

by Saroo Brierly

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly

By now everyone has heard this story as the movie based on this book, Lion, was nominated for all sorts of awards. My husband got this for me before the movie was a thing, and so the first time I saw the trailer for the movie I’d already read the book and therefore had a bunch of pre conceived notions about what it should be, but that is another story for another time. You all know my thoughts on movies based on books. 

A Long Way Home is the first person account of a young boy, Saroo, who is growing up in India. His father is Muslim and his mother was Hindu (but later converted) which is already frowned upon. When Saroo’s father leaves the family to live with an additional wife, Saroo’s mother is forced to support the family by working long hours and Saroo’s siblings are all forced to pitch in. Saroo stayed at home and helped raise his baby sister Shekila while their older brothers Guddu and Kallu spent a lot of time on the streets trying to survive by their wits. It was not uncommon for them to stay away from home for a couple of weeks at a time. Despite the poor financial conditions, Saroo feels the love and camaraderie of his family. One day Saroo convinces Guddu to take him along on an adventure. Tired, hungry, and disoriented, Saroo ends up falling asleep on a train and when the train finally stops he’s found himself on the streets of Calcutta with thousands of other street children. Saroo was unaware how long we was on the train, but knew that it was over a day. With no education and very little in the way of communication skills, Saroo is forced to confront the dangers that a lone child can encounter in any large city. I’m going to pause now, and tell you that as I was reading this book, there were times when my stomach was clenched in fear for this kid. I kept seeing the scenarios and situations where it could have gone so wrong. But Saroo was lucky, or not lucky exactly. There are times in his journey where he describes almost being guided or warned. Saroo is not a religious person, and doesn’t use those terms, but as a religious person myself, I recognize providential warnings and divine guidance.

Saroo is eventually put into an orphanage and adopted by a caucasian family from Australia. His adoptive parents do their best to keep his culture alive to him, but also to help him preserve his memories of his former home and family by encouraging him to write everything down. They also adopt another son from India and Saroo grows up feeling distinctly Australian, but when he becomes an adult he meets Indians at his university that spark an interest in learning more about his homeland and recapturing his past. Google Earth was new technology at the time and Saroo spent hours scouring computer images and eliminating various locations in an attempt to find his birth family. Saroo is tenacious. Again, I’m going to interject that his parents and girlfriend were fairly supportive when he let them know what was going on. Initially, Saroo had fears that it might make his parents sad but their concerns are only for him and a hope that he could find what he is looking for.

I won’t spoil the end, but just know there are tears. Lots of them. This book is not an amazingly well written poetic examination of the differences of culture or what adoption means in a larger sense. It is a simply written story of one man’s desire to complete the picture of himself. It is compelling. The events themselves add up to be a truly incredible journey. I suggest this book to anyone who is looking for something up-lifting. I imagine it would make a pleasant book club selection. I am also putting this on a list of books that I would give to other people.

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