Thursday, July 27, 2017

[Review] The Ones That Disappeared by Zana Fraillon

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Publication (dd/mm/yyyy)13/07/2017
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

My Rating
My thoughts

The Ones That Disappeared is one of those books packed with the power to make a difference to the world. Fraillon has quickly been marked as an author to watch amongst readers when her debut novel The Bone Sparrow, a supposedly outstanding fictional account of young refugees, received much positive acclaim. I still have not read it, but it has been pushed to the top of my to-buy list if it's anything like The Ones That Disappeared! This time, Fraillon has placed a spotlight on human trafficking, and the very disturbing and realistic portrayal of its presence in our society spoke volumes to me and shook me to my core. 

The Ones That Disappeared follows three children as they hang onto their dreams of one day returning home. They belong to the Snakeskin gang, their wrists branded with ink showing to the world that they are not free, and they can be bent to His will. But they are treated well, and He protects them. Esra, Miran and Isa work hard to pay off the "debt" that they are owed for coming into His care, telling jokes and sharing stories to keep their spirits strong. Until one day, an accident results in the destruction of their Jungle where they have been helping to grow drugs, so they do the only thing they can do. Run.

I was not expecting such a beautifully written middle-grade book! Even from the first page, there is such a strong and distinctive voice in Esra that draws you into the narrative and makes you want to read on. I loved the simplicity of the writing, yet it was also lyrical and dream-like at times. This book is told in multiple POVs and it worked so well! Each perspective is distinct. Apart from Esra's, there is Skeet's (a kid they meet) perspective and also Miran's, but his is in third person, which you will understand why if you read the book. While it certainly wasn't my favourite perspective, I liked the idea behind using third person for Miran's perspective: he eventually becomes a passive, speechless, helpless victim in the events that transpire around him and the impact of that in itself is quite powerful.

I loved Esra and Miran and Isa. I felt like they were just ordinary kids - full of hope and courage, wit and stamina - who have been negatively shaped by their situations. We don't learn too much about what happened to them before they were placed under the Snakeskin's care, but it didn't matter. They had become a family of their own. Their unfaltering loyalty and protection towards one another was lovely and a little bit heart-breaking. And then there's Skeet, the son of alcoholic and neglectful parents, who meets them at the cave by the river.

There's a magical realism element to the story, which threw me off a bit but it also helped to lighten the mood of the book, preventing me from feeling too weighed down by all its serious issues. I liked Riverman, and I hope other readers do too!

There is a profound complexity hidden within these pages. I loved trying to analyse and interpret, unravel the secret meaning behind everything. Like the bird references, more specifically, all the pigeons.

The ending left us with traces of hope - for that, I was relieved. It is also quite open-ended, and while I may have preferred a bit more closure I can understand why Fraillon decided to finish her story in that way. It does send a very important message to readers: If we have any hope of eliminating the heinous crime of human trafficking from the world, first we must give voices to those who have suffered and reach out.


First lines:

"My name is Esra Merkes. I am eleven years old. The tattoo on my arm says I belong to Him, Orlando Perel. It says the Snakeskins are my family for life. It says I am kept. It says I am owned. They think just because I close my eyes and shut my ears and follow their words, that I have forgotten who I am. They think I am theirs to make.
     But that is not my truth.
     No ink scratched in my skin can tell me who I am. No rough hands and twisted faces can turn me soft. My truth is stronger than a thousand hands and fiercer than a million twisted mouths.
     I am Esra Merkes. They do not know me. They do not know I can wait. They do not know, one day, I will be free.
"'One night,' Miran tells us, 'we will stand in the wild, and the river will lead us home. We will be free and happy, and that is when our living will begin.' This is how his stories start, every time. His Tomorrow Stories, he calls them. 'Might be tomorrow, might be the next tomorrow, might be a tomorrow far from now. But it will be a tomorrow, because it sure as hell isn't today.' And when he said it that first time we laughed until tears ran down our faces. (10)
"'Esra,' she told me, 'you must speak for the dead. Speak so their souls may still live in your words and in your heart. Speak so they are never really gone.' She said it like she knew she wouldn't be around to do it herself. And for a long time I did as she said. I spoke their dreams and their wishes and their songs and their cares. I looked after the things they looked after and prayed to the gods they prayed to and she was right, my teta. I could feel them with me, even when I was so alone I thought that the world had eaten me up and spat me out in Hell, still I could feel them. (155)
"My feet tell of a hundred journeys gone and a thousand more to come, and when I tip back my head and howl, the ache of it cracks the moon wide open, and the stars fall from the sky, every one. (189)


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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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