A Long Way Home


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When I first heard the premise of this book I was captivated - a boy gets lost as a child and uses Google Earth as an adult to find his way home.  It is written and billed as a memoir and is a very nice, easy read.  Sadly though, in our world of people doing outrageous things to get their fifteen minutes of fame amid fake news, I remain skeptical about this enjoyable story.  I read the large print version of the book.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 1

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 2

Suspense: 2

Morality: 3

Traditional: 3

Sex - there are references to sexual abuse being suffered by children, though no details

Religion - most religious details are presented as a part of a culture.  In the end the author states that he has never been religious and does not ascribe anything that happened to him to a religion but does state a belief in destiny

Gruesome - including a description of a photo of someone who'd been hit by a train, a child living on the streets is bound to see some gruesome stuff, and a three year old's experience getting circumcised (p. 34)

Suspense - I was intrigued enough to want to find out how it would all turn out but not driven enough to spend any time more than it was convenient to find out

Morality - one might think that a woman leaving two children under the age of five home alone for hours or days was immoral but it must be viewed in the context of the time and culture.  I truly believe all of the central people in this story were always doing their best at any given moment, even if their best may not live up to our modern day American standards.  Bonus points for the people who seek to support orphans.

Traditional - an in-depth look at traditional lives in some places and conditions that may be unfamiliar but not off the center mark

Saroo tells us that his father was Muslim and his mother Hindu (p. 23) and apparently that caused a strain but the book does not explain why different religions might be a problem.  Interestingly, one of the five pillars of the Muslim faith is charity to the poor.  Yet, Saroo's biological father left his mother and their four children in abject poverty.  A Hindu woman might want a representation of god in her home whereas a Muslim man would not have any human-like representations of a god.  Hindu's believe in reincarnation for all and Muslim's believe in loving and serving all of god's creation.  A Muslim believes that everyone is responsible for their own actions once they reach adolescence they must chose right from wrong. Hindus only marry one person but a Muslim man is opposed to celibacy.  With just these cursory level comparisons it is easy to see that there are several opportunities to cause strain on a marital relationship between a Hindu and a Muslim.

In the early chapters I felt like the ages didn't add up.  Based on Saroo's memories it seemed like he was "about five" for a couple of years.  By the end of the book we get confirmation that the four children were each three years apart. (p. 240)  So, if Guddu was about 10 when he started selling toothbrush kits (p. 35), Kallu was about 7, Saroo about 4 and Shekila about 1.   Later, Guddu was about 14 so approximately four years had passed and Saroo would be about 8 yet he writes that he was about 5. (p. 50)  I understand that children often do not perceive how old someone actually is, but obviously the difference between thinking your older brother is about 10 or about 14 is significant and indicates at least a couple of years have passed.

Even though I was skeptical I still wept with the people in Chapter 10.

Discussion Questions

Does it seem plausible that a child could have so many adventures (for example, regarding stealing food) before the age of five? (Ch. 3)

If the landlady often left food cooking while she was away, do you think she was trying to help the kids by giving them the opportunity to get food? (p. 40)

Regarding the time Saroo was trapped on the train, he remembers his feelings but not his actions. (p. 56)  Is this logical.  Can you think of a time when you can remember your feelings more than your actions?

Imagine being the adoptive mom who knows the child has no background .  What would you expect his backstory to be?  How would you feel when you finally heard his story?

Saroo's biological mother stayed in the neighborhood in case he came back. (p. 153)  What would you think happened to your five year old?  Would you ever hope to see him again?

Was Saroo right to go alone or should he have allowed his family and girlfriend to go with him? (p. 212)

Saroo told his story to inspire others. (p. 249)  In what ways did he or his story inspire you?

SPOILER ALERT - Saroo's mom prayed to Allah for family blessings and saw Saroo's image then the next day her returned.  Do you believe her experience?  How do you explain it?

Debate the merits of Facebook. (Ch. 12)  Visit the Khandwa "My Home Town" page.

Did he ever marry Lisa?

Theme Ideas

Try using Google Earth to find your childhood home (without the address).

Serve Chai tea.
Serve goat curry, the dish Saroo thinks his mom makes best. (p. 253)

Play Indian music, including Lambi Judai (p. 45).

Watch the movie "Lion" based on Saroo's story.
Watch the Australian "60 Minutes" coverage or one of several You Tube videos.

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