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Monday, June 10, 2013

This Is Where I Am by Karen Campbell: Review

Bloomsbury India sent me this huge book for review, This Is Where I Am by Karen Campbell, and once I got it, even before I began reading it, I realized it was just the kind of book I would pick up at the bookstore and check – huge, paperback and all about family and relationships - just my kind of book.

So it was that I was really looking forward to reading this one.

Some details about the book:
Author: Karen Campbell
Title: This Is Where I Am
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Year: 2013
No. of Pages: 466

Before we get into the review, here's what's on the cover page.

I always love books that allow me to look into the life and experiences of another person, whether in similar settings or entirely different ones, and add to that a touch of family and drama and you have what I will call an absolute my kind of read.

One of the first words that comes to mind when I think of describing this book after having read it is 'embracing.' The story, that talks about two very different kind of people brought in contact, is a great example of all that is there about embracing - embracing life, embracing new possibilities, cultures, way of living, new relationships and people, learning to let go and look forward and embrace the future, learning to work through your fears and embracing a more open and stronger face to the world, embracing love, embracing closure, embracing the desire to move on, even if you don't always want to or feel like it.

The story revolves around Abdi Hassan, a Somalian refugee who finds himself in Glasgow, being resettled as a refugee. He has arrived with his 04-year-old daughter Rebecca, who does not speak anymore (she used to, but now, won't say a word). Once in Glasgow, the Scottish Refugee Council introduces Abdi to Deborah, a recently widowed woman who is to be his mentor and is supposed to aid him in settling in better by helping him understanding the culture, the life and the history of the place. Both Abdi and Deborah are staring at the exact opposite of what they are as individuals, and it's a difficult try in the beginning to understand the other, to try and form a connect. Both don't have a clue as to how to proceed, and it's a trial-and-error way that slowly lets them work their awkwardness into some semblance of familiarity, and the two slowly fall into a kind of friendship. As Abdi's daughter Rebecca gets more and more attached to Deborah, finding in her the mother that she doesn't have and looking forward to her 'Debba', things start to change, and one day, when Rebecca suddenly starts to talk....it changes everything......   

This Is Where I Am is written in two distinct first person accounts - one voice is Abdi's and the other is Deborah's. One of the first things that really impressed me about Karen Campbell is the genuineness she brings in her voice and dialogue when she talks in Abdi's voice. I can understand her speaking in Deborah's tone, but speaking in Abdi's voice, and that too with such authenticity is something that came across as really impressive - very believable without being over-the-top or looking too forced and made up. 

Though the characters and situations are something that most of us wouldn't ever encounter in real life, these are also characters we read about or see on the news most of the times - people forced to flee their homes and countries, asking for refugee status in new and unfamiliar countries, learning to adjust and become a part of a culture that they are now supposed to embrace, learning to tolerate hatred, racism, fear, confusion, pity and taking it all in their stride, while still trying to mix in. Stories about people who live in unbelievable filth and poverty and unthinkable violence and torture, and still trying to make a life, to hold on to some semblances of living.

What I especially loved about the book was the fact that Campbell not only takes these scenes out of news and media coverage and makes them real and 'right here', but also manages to make her characters utterly loveable and endearing - yes, endearing. So it is that you love Deborah's will to go out there and help someone who is worlds different from her life and background, her constant 'trying' at making Abdi feel comfortable and at ease, while herself being nervous about doing so, and you absolutely adore almost most about Abdi - his way of speaking, his way of subtly getting back at people who subject him to racist attacks, his constant love for his daughter and his resolve and hunger at trying to make a life for himself and his daughter in this unfamiliar and new environment.   

There's so much that is there in this novel, and Karen Campbell has done full justice to the various issues she has talked about here - it's safe to say that the book is extremely well-researched and the author has done a great deal of homework before coming out with it in the book.

I always try and read books that let me experience a journey with the characters, books that take me to different settings and let me understand more about how other people are living their very own journeys - and this is exactly that sort of a book. I also especially love the family/relationship angle in a story, and this book captures my heart with many strong emotions.

Do I recommend this book:  Definitely, this is a MUST-READ!

I give it 5 hearts

- Debolina Raja Gupta