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Monday, 16 April 2012

N is Beverley Naidoo

Another brilliant book written in the 21st Century. For us, living in the UK - a small island now swamped with refugees-  it couldn't be more timely. We are made to think deeply about what it is like to be a child refugee in this country.  It is an uncomfortable read whilst remaining a wonderful novel for children.

The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo is a popular South African children's author who has written a number of award-winning novels, mainly about life in South Africa, where she spent her childhood The other side of truth is a story about political corruption and how that affects the lives of the kids of an out spoken writer. It is a powerful story about justice and freedom of speech and it received several awards including the Carnegie Medal.
The novel is set in the autumn of 1995 during the reign of the despot General Abacha  who is waging a campaign of suppression against journalists. A Nigerian girl and her younger brother have to leave Nigeria suddenly when their mother is killed during an assassination attempt on their outspoken journalist father. They are abandoned in London and have to cope with the police, social services and school bullies.

Plot summary
Although this novel is written in the first person, it presents the perspective of a 12-year-old girl, Sade Solaja. Her father, Folarin Solaja, is a journalist, one of the most critical of the corrupt regime. The book opens with her memory of hearing the two shots which ended her mother's life, a memory which recurs throughout the novel in her thoughts and dreams. Her memories of Nigeria are often set in contrast to her experiences of an alien England, while her mother's remembered words of wisdom give her comfort and strength. The concentration on Sade's point of view makes many events seem obscure and confusing, just as she experiences them.
After the shooting, Sade's Uncle Tunde urges her father to send her and her 10-year-old brother Femi to safety in England. They are forced to pack and leave suddenly and secretly. They fly to London posing as the children of a stranger, Mrs Bankole, so they can travel on her passport. When their Uncle Dele fails to collect them at the airport, Mrs Bankole abandons them at Victoria Station. Moneyless and friendless, they wander the streets looking for the art college where their uncle works. They find refuge in a video store, but the owner calls the police, believing them to be vandals. Thus they come to the attention of the authorities. Worried to tell the truth in case it endangers their father, Sade takes refuge in silence and later in half-truths. The children are fostered first by Mrs Graham and later by the Kings, a Jamaican couple whose called Auntie Gracie and Uncle Roy(From Sade's point of view) whose children have grown up and left. They are sent to different schools. Sade is sent to Avon School where she meets a girl from Somalia, called Mariam whose story is similar to Sade's. Marcia, Donna and Kevin (Mrs Graham's son) are bullies and treat Sade very badly at school, putting pressure on her to steal a turquoise lighter from Mariam's uncle's store. Femi goes to Greenslades Primary School. They lose contact......
It later emerges that her worried father has entered England illegally to look for them but has been arrested. There is a chance that he will be deported to face certain death in Nigeria, especially as the Nigerian police claim he is wanted for his wife's murder. Although Iyawo Jenny and Mr Nathan try their hardest to help Sade's father, things are not working out. Sade braves the freezing night to speak to "Mr. Seven O'Clock", the newscaster she has seen on television, to bring her father's story to the attention of the British public. The story ends with her father's release for Christmas, though asylum has yet to be granted. They hope one day they can return safely to Nigeria. Sade misses her grandmother and her former life. To end the book, Beverly Naidoo used Sade's letter to her grandmother which is very touching.


Margo Berendsen said...

I'm trying to read more multicultural books, I will definitely add this to my list. In fact I skimmed the latter part of your post because I didn't want to risk read any spoilers!

Carole Anne Carr said...

Yes, Margo, hadn't thought of that when I add the plot! With our attitude to an overcrowded island this wonderful book makes for uncomfortable reading.

Susan Kane said...

What a story! Events emerge from the African nations, telling of the horror and death faced by mere children. Excellent review.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Thanks, Susan, makes for such painful reading.

Joylene said...

I saw her on youtube at a conference. She gave a talk on judgement calls. It was excellent. Hi Carole!

Carole Anne Carr said...

Hi Joylene, yes a wonderful writer with the ability to entertain and to bring the problems of our world to our children's attention in a lively and thought provoking way.

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