Moth by Melody Razak
The cruelty and chaos of the mismanaged transfer of power is well-handled, showing me more about a period of history I thought I knew. I knew about the millions uprooted – Muslims fleeing their homes in India, Hindus escaping what would be Pakistan – and the trains pulling into termini with every passenger dead. I didn’t know this would spread terror even to the capital. I should’ve known, of course, from similar stories in my own lifetime, when neighbour turns against neighbour, and no-one wins.
I liked the focus on the female side of the family, which includes a couple of servants. The younger sister, Roop, is a sheer delight, especially when I realised she was only six, and I liked how Alma becomes more like her in the end. I could’ve done with less of Alma’s Disney princess attitude to relationships, but otherwise Melody Razak’s debut novel is a poignant story of how political turmoil can turn the most settled lives upside down. Thanks to publishers Weidenfeld & Nicolson for my advance proof copy.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
No doubt it has a zillion reviews already, so I’ll just mention a few take-home points for me as a writer. It’s a classic hero’s journey, with lessons learnt from enemies and allies along the way. Except that we’re straight into the adventure, with the status quo revealed in flashback, and no real choice, although much reluctance, about heeding the call. There’s mounting tension, a slight midpoint reversal, and a physical and metaphorical cave in the Arizona desert.
Interesting for me, with all my novels, whether in the third or first person, sticking to the main characters’ points of view, was how easily the viewpoint flows between Lydia and Luca and others they encounter, with no loss of momentum. I still had tears in my eyes when a character I barely knew had to die. And though there’s some disturbing sexual violence, it doesn’t have to be directly shown.
Read it to improve your own skills as a writer. Read it to remember the migrants’ plight. I didn’t want or expect this to happen, but it’s one of my favourite reads this year. Published by Tinder Press in the UK, I bought my copy.
Click on the image for other recommended reads about migration and refugees.
She couldn’t prove they were her triathlon medals, but he gave her the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes the shortest, the skinniest, proved the toughest, enduring scorching days and freezing nights. They marched, jogged, uncomplaining; they melted into the shadows at his command. Crossing in summer was madness with dark’s protection paper thin. Tonight, the solstice: riskiest of all. Yet she pleaded, everyone did, handing him wads of cash. Desert’s dangers the final stepping-stone on freedom’s trail. Now, minutes from departure, she arrives with a baby on her hip. Slim chance they’ll reach America. Certain death unless she tries.