Author: Caroline Overington
Published: 2013 by Bantam Australia, an imprint of Random House
Read: October 2013
Categories: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Australian Authors
Why it made it to the top of the pile: Read before participating in a Google+ Hangout with Caroline hosted by The Reading Room
Trivia Tidbit: The protagonist of No Place Like Home is a Tanzanian who suffers from albinism. The Tanzania Albino Society serves over 12,000 members.
Full Disclosure: Advance Reading Copy courtesy of Netgalley & the publisher
So begins No Place Like Home, the fifth novel from Caroline Overington. Paul Doherty is her narrator for this tale, about 'Ali Khan', resettled in Australia after suffering persecution in his native Tanzania. Ali Khan is not his real name (it is Nduwimana, but he is also called ' Nudie' by the care worker who sponsored his resettlement), and it can be argued that life in Australia has not been much of an improvement for him - victim of misunderstanding, miscommunication and misrepresentation. Paul recounts the story of the siege some months after it occurs, and is able to add back story and detail to the lives of Nudie, the hostages and the other people whose lives were impacted by the events of that day.
Paul Doherty is a conflicted narrator. He feels unqualified to give the advice so often asked of him, and does not believe his relationship with God gives his prayers any ranking over the prayers of others. He counsels without any formal training, and with a degree of judgement unexpected in the clergy. This impression may be magnified by Paul's first-person narration, which gives the reader access to his personal thoughts and opinions, but it felt at times that Paul was permitted to say or repeat opinions and judgements that would be considered offensive coming from anyone else (e.g. the girls in the nail salon "all looked the same"; and "Many still had Muslim refugees in mind. Let's not muck around and pretend that doesn't make people nervous."). I found Paul offensive on a semi-regular basis throughout his tale.
While reading this book it was not clear what the author's intentions were. To my mind there were a number of possibilities. Perhaps it was intended as a comment on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia (though Nudie's entry was legal and he is an Australian citizen) or on the prejudice arising from assumptions made based on appearance (Nudie, the Asian nail artist, Paul choosing whether or not to identify himself with his collar, private school uniforms). Perhaps it was written as a comment on racism and the insular nature of Australians, or maybe I was reading too much into what was simply intended as a thrilling, page-turning crime novel. While I am in no way suggesting that every novel needs a moral (heaven forbid!), I was confused when reading No Place Like Home. Were the racial stereotypes a blatant appeal to the lowest-common-denominator reader, 'dumbed-down' so the pages would keep turning, or was it intended to be a nails-down-the-blackboard screech that alerted the reader to the racism and judgement in our own society. For me it was a screech, and the very possibility that it could be anything else was concerning.
Having been given the opportunity to speak with Caroline as part of a Google+ Hangout hosted by The Reading Room (see link above - thank you TRR!), I was able to have that question addressed, at least in part. Caroline noted that the character of Paul is based on someone she knows - a priest who felt unqualified to give advice on life events and situations he had no experience of. And I took from this answer that No Place Like Home is, at least in part, addressing the issue of how appearances can be deceiving and how we can be far too quick to judge. From that, I must admit I was more satisfied with the story and a little more forgiving of Paul.