The ink bridge by Neil Grant
Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781742376691.
The violent oppression maintained by Moslem extremists in Afghanistan is revealed in Neil Grant's depiction of a young boy's desperate flight from the Taliban. Omed does what he can to provide for his family who live a hopeless existence in miserable squalor until he enrages the vicious stand-over men who terrorise his locale. Knowing he will be murdered, Omed flees his village and journeys to Pakistan where he endures months of privation until fortune delivers an opportunity to undertake the long and dangerous voyage to Australia.
Mandatory detention at Woomera follows his arrival, until a breakout loosely based on real events sees him escape to try to live in the community without official sanction or the rights and protection afforded by citizenship.
In Melbourne, Hec, a young Australian man suffering from a family trauma meets Omed whilst they perform unskilled factory work and the pair develop a relationship partially based upon the silence they both maintain for different reasons.
Grant graphically illustrates the plight of those who take enormous risks to seek the safety of life in Australia. The reader is transported to a world of corruption and greed where those who profit from human misery demonstrate a casual disregard for the suffering of those they exploit. I admired the way the writer presented a balanced and realistic view of the asylum experience. Whilst he unashamedly detailed the mental illness, self harming and hopelessness caused by long term detention, one of his main refugee characters was a morally bankrupt, evil criminal, - exactly the sort of individual whose identity and background authorities try to establish via detention.
The question of why so many unaccompanied men feature in the asylum seeker population is dealt with by the author in a brave manner which does not shy away from the harsh realities of life under a brutal regime perpetuated by bloodthirsty tyrants demonstrating moronically dogmatic religious intolerance. Grant does not attempt to excuse or misrepresent reality for those trying to survive in a land where some lives have no value and he certainly does not insult the reader with happy resolutions for the helpless innocents left behind by those who flee.
The writer's personal experience in Afghanistan and level of research into human trafficking is evident in the text, however I thought that presenting the two boys with their disparate backgrounds and trying to meld them into a larger story was just a little too much to handle in this novel. An unresolved climactic event at the factory, unconvincing Woomera content and a laughably bad depiction of an Australian truck driver were also elements I cannot help recalling which reduced the overall impact of this otherwise good story.