Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon
As far as refugee novels go, The Bone Sparrow presents an unusual perspective as it harnesses both the charming naivete of a young narrator as well as the world of dystopian novels: what if you were born inside a refugee detention centre and this was your bubble? And what if everybody else who lived with you didn’t see things inside the bubble as positively and magically as you do?

As far as general novels go, with The Bone Sparrow, Zana Fraillon’s prose offers up the earthy grit that is so characteristic of Australian novels but she also layers it with a gentle mist. Subhi, a growing and curious boy, has a distinctive voice and his night sea treasures introduce elements of what might be described as magical realism. Combining this, the plot and the symbolism of The Bone Sparrow (a necklace, and a story, and a metaphor), I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers start going down the path of allegory.

Narrative and plot wise, The Bone Sparrow is inherently Subhi’s story but it is Jimmie’s too. Jimmie is a ten year old rural girl living on the outskirts of the town housing Subhi’s detention centre. Her mother has recently died and her family is struggling to come to terms with this. The novel’s progression alternates from Subhi’s first person narration to Jimmie’s story in the third person, and of course, their stories intertwine.

All of these elements work together to produce an immersively good story. Of course, though, this is a novel about the plight of refugees and it makes no apologies for exploring the dehumanising conditions imprisoning them, the good (and the bad) that is in so many people, and our agency as individual human beings. As dark as the subject matter of the novel, The Bone Sparrow reinforces the idea that hope is what keeps things moving on.

The Bone Sparrow is the sort of book that sits very comfortably on award lists.

Publication details: Orion Children’s Books, 2016, London, hardback
This copy: for review from the publisher

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