Wednesday, 27 July 2016

breach

Peirene Press commissioned Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes to go out into the camps at Calais, nicknamed the Jungle, and hear the refugees’ stories. breach is the result; eight short stories showing the hopes of those people desperate to enter Britain and the fears of those who wish to reduce immigration.

All around her now, on the path, Julie sees stranded people, people who cannot cross that last fence. Involunteers.

When I first heard about the project, I assumed it would be non-fiction but the stories the authors heard in Calais have been combined and transformed into fiction. I think I would have liked to have read actual accounts but I understand the need for the anonymization fiction gives as well as the flexibility to show things a certain way. I tried to keep in mind that, whilst the characters were made up, the experiences, and feelings, were real ones.

The Jungle very much feels like a city in these stories, with a wide range of nationalities and people trying to get by. There’s a criminal element present too but also people running shops and building hospitals. In some ways you wonder why we don’t invest in making it a liveable place where people can be proud of what they’ve built, rather than a waiting room.

The stories cover life in the camp but also the journeys to and from it, the realities of smuggling and the dangers of sneaking in via lorry. The desperation of the women who sell their bodies for a few euros. There is a French B&B owner who takes in two refugee children, but she worries, not just what people might think if they knew but she also starts to doubt them, doubt her own mind. We see the transience of volunteers, who befriend refugees only to disappear out of their lives. There is a refugee who has made it to Britain only to face prejudice and blame.

They think refugees make their summer income leave through the back door. Tourism does not want to see any dead bodies floating onto the sand.

It didn’t really go into why Britain is such a desirable place for refugees to aim for. The main thing I got was many of them spoke a little bit of English already, so learning a language from scratch was more of a barrier to settling elsewhere.

I felt the first story was the weakest and may put some people off, but overall the stories were strong humanised the refugees, whilst acknowledging problems. It doesn’t go into the political side, it’s more about the human side. It’s an important and timely book that shows a different side from what the media feeds us.

You had asked for leggings, tighter jeans, something that would make you feel like you were still twenty-four and not just a refugee squatting in a camp that the locals want gone.

breach is published by Peirene Press and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 1st August 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

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