Amnesty

Literary fiction novel about an asylum seeker in Sydney whose visa has expired

Content warning: racism, exploitation, family violence, torture

This was one of the books for Asia Bookroom‘s book group this year that unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this one. I read another book by this author and really enjoyed it, so even though I missed the book group I was still very keen to read it.

Photo is of “Amnesty” by Aravind Adiga. The paperback book is standing between an orange bottle of Mr Muscle cleaner and a vacuum cleaner attachment. In the background is the vacuum cleaner and in the foreground is a yellow cleaning cloth.

Literary fiction novel about an asylum seeker in Sydney whose visa has expired

Content warning: racism, exploitation, family violence, torture

This was one of the books for Asia Bookroom‘s book group this year that unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this one. I read another book by this author and really enjoyed it, so even though I missed the book group I was still very keen to read it.

Photo is of “Amnesty” by Aravind Adiga. The paperback book is standing between an orange bottle of Mr Muscle cleaner and a vacuum cleaner attachment. In the background is the vacuum cleaner and in the foreground is a yellow cleaning cloth.

“Amnesty” by Aravind Adiga is a literary fiction novel about a young man known as Danny who lives in Sydney and works as a cleaner. With blonde-tipped hair, an anglicised nickname, a local girlfriend and his portable vacuum cleaner, Danny has been working hard to make a new life for himself after his application for refugee status as a Sri Lankan was denied and his temporary visa expired. Danny spends his days cleaning, meeting up with his girlfriend and dealing with his landlord whose shop he lives on top of. However, one day, Danny finds out that one of his clients has died and that police are involved. Danny gets a call from the doctor she was having an affair with to come clean the apartment she was let him stay in. He keeps calling and calling and Danny is faced with a difficult choice: go to the police and have his visa status discovered or do nothing.

This was a tense, cramped type of book that follows the events of a single day. Adiga uses an interesting narrative structure where the books is broken down into elapsing periods of time, sometimes as small as a single minute, to show how Danny is grappling with the events as they are unfolding. Agida really centres this story in Sydney, but in a Sydney that not everyone experiences. Through Danny’s eyes we see opportunity, diversity and natural beauty but we also see poverty, exploitation and inequality. This is a cuttingly insightful book that unpeels a corner of Australia’s asylum seeker policies and shows not only the hardline stance towards asylum seekers, but also how the economy is propped up by the underpaid labour of people like Danny.

However, despite the cleverness of this novel, I didn’t always find it especially readable. Adiga’s focus on the minutiae of Danny’s life was at times claustrophobic. He builds and builds the tension without relief and the streets of Sydney feel more and more oppressive.

An intelligent yet uncomfortable reminder of the way asylum seekers are treated in Australia.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, General Fiction

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