The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny was a book club read back earlier this year. It was the first book everyone in the group actually finished, which is telling in itself. While it doesn’t seem quite right to use the word ‘enjoy’ about such serious and at times disturbing subject matter, I did enjoy this read.
Ali Al Jenabi is a regular guy from a regular family who happens to live in Iraq. His father is a passionate man who questions the regime of Saddam Hussein and raises his sons to question and make their own judgements. This lands them in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison where all are tortured horribly and held for years, one brother never emerging.
What follows is the story of how an ordinary man in a violent and unjust country tries to smuggle himself and his family out to safety.
The story covers years and many attempts and travels to many countries, betrayals, sacrifice and heartbreak and enduring hope.
Ali loves his country, and you get the overwhelming sense that if he could live anywhere in the world in safety, he would choose Iraq, even now. But the Iraq of his childhood no longer exists and return to that country is impossible for him.
He is taken advantage of repeatedly by people smugglers and eventually, in despair of the ruthless and heartless smugglers he has encountered, begins to arrange his own boats and smuggling people to Australia himself.
The story of betrayal continues when eventually he lands in Australia himself only to be arrested, have his application for refugee status (possibly) deliberately sabotaged by the government and be the first person charged with people smuggling in Australia.
This book was an eye opener into a complex issue, one with a great deal of misinformation and irrational and unnecessary fear.
The intention of this blog is to talk about writing and books, not politics, so I won’t get into the rights wrongs and wherefores on this issue, just to say we are a massive country with many resources and this is an issue we as a nation handle appallingly, with that said I am here to talk about the book.
There’s no doubt this book is written from one point of view and is very sympathetic to Ali’s plight and cause, the Australian government comes off very poorly, not as bad as Saddam Hussein sure, but I am sure the book does no harm in positive publicity for Ali’s asylum claim.
But it is a worthy read, particularly in this county where we hear the fear mongering every day in our media. An emotional and sympathetic telling of the people smuggler’s side serves as a counterpoint.
As a book club we also read I am Malala, another story of atrocity and injustice, but a tough and annoying read. I felt it natural to compare the two and The People Smuggler certainly came out on top. I would recommend this, and I have.
Read it, consider the issues, as one sided as this version is, it’s a worthy addition to the debate. For more info you can visit the web page set up around the book.
Apologies for typos and errors, this post was written on my phone 🙂