Review Blog

Mar 30 2020

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

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Picador, 2020. ISBN: 9781509879045.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Forever on edge, scared of being caught, Danny is an illegal immigrant living in Sydney. Not a boat person seeking refuge, the usual stereotype Australians associate with the term 'illegal immigrant', Danny is one of the others - coming from Sri Lanka by plane, on a student visa, then realising his course was a "ripoff", he dropped out, and disappeared. So now he is illegal, a man without rights. He lives in the storeroom above a shop, paying Tommo, the exploitative shop owner, half the money he makes cleaning apartments as the Legendary Cleaner, carrying his vacuum cleaner on his back.
We gradually learn there is a reason Danny fled Sri Lanka - it is to do with the lump on his arm and the memory of an interrogating police officer holding a cigarette. The fear of being sent back keeps him always wary, intent on mastering Australianness, golden streaks in his hair, and Aussie slang on his lips. But things start to go horribly wrong when there is a murder in one of the apartments he cleans and he is the only one with any idea of who the murderer could be.
Thus he faces a dilemma: should he contact the police and tell them what he knows about the secret affair between the murdered woman and the 'Doctor'? But then the police will work out that he is illegal, and he will get deported, back to the danger that he never wants to face again.
The events of the book all take place within one day; the clock ticks as Danny and the murderer draw closer together and Danny vacillates between making the call or making a run for it.
With little descriptions of people and places, the white people watching him, the knowing looks that pass between the legal brown person and the illegal one, the nervous twitch that the cleaner finds hard to control, the dreams and memories that come into his mind, and his constant state of tension are all masterfully and vividly created by the author Adiga. It is a tension that carries the reader from one moment to the next, and in the process a whole other world is revealed to us, the underworld of the person with no identity card, no passport, no rights.
The title Amnesty comes from the knowledge Danny has that there was once a politician, Malcolm Fraser, who, on Australia Day 1976, offered amnesty to prohibited immigrants who had overstayed their visa. Maybe there is a chance that he might be offered amnesty in exchange for dobbing in a killer? What do you think?
Helen Eddy

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