A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is a book that is heartfelt in so many aspects, beginning with the author getting lost on a train at the age of five. From that moment, onward, Brierley’s journey, where it took him, and how he managed to find his way back home, begins.
He was with his brother. His brother had left him at a train station while he ran errands, before coming back for him. Brierley saw a train, went on it to rest until his brother came back. He fell asleep and woke up with train moving along, and there was no way for Brierley to get off of it. Throughout the trip, no conductor asked for a ticket, and nobody questioned him. The train finally ended up in Kolkata (Calcutta). The city was teaming with people, and he was more or less engulfed in the crowds, the streets and harsh realities of survival.
Some individuals who passed through his life were not so kind. But, survive he did, using his intuition, the bit of five-year old logic he had, and at times, the kindness of others. Finally, the kindness of one young man who gave him refuge for a few days led Brierley to a police station, where he was held in a cell, overnight (imagine the fright). From the police station he was taken to an orphanage in Kolkata (Calcutta), by a woman named Mrs. Snood.
She was a kind woman, and very motherly in her ways. She treated him and the other children with caring and dignity. Brierley needed that after experiencing street life. Even though the orphanage was crowded, it felt comfortable to him. A couple of months passed by, and Brierley was told he was going to have new parents, because, with the little information he was able to give her, they could not locate his birth family.
From Kolkata, he journey to Tasmania, where he grew up with the Brierleys. They were a loving, kind and understanding couple. They treated him with the utmost of respect and compassion. Their house was decorated with Indian accessories. They had even provided a map of India on one wall of his bedroom, so he would feel at home.
He had a good life with his parents. He was never in need, and never lacking love. He went to university, worked with his father in his father’s business, had all of the comforts of home and life.
As he grew older, he wanted to learn more, and attempted to find the town he was from, through internet research. He thought that the little he remembered would help him. He failed, and let it go for a few years, when he began anew, through Google Earth. Google Earth became his life, in his off hours. He was addicted to his search.
He remembered the station he had left from, remembered everything about it. He remembered his village and his way around the streets. He remembered names, sights, landscape. He devoted every spare minute to roaming cities, villages, streets, through his ardent and ambitious research.
Then, one day, bingo! He was following train tracks, and found his home town! He was elated, to say the least. He knew he had to travel there to see if his family was still living in the same place, and/or to see if they were alive. Alive they were!
He met his mother, brother, and sister. He met in-laws and nephews. He had journeyed the face of the earth, through Google Earth, and had come home.
The memoir is poignant and had me turning one page after another. I became involved in Brierley’s life, his search for family, roots, and identity. What was illuminating, was not only his journey, but also the outcome regarding his family in India. They fully understood that he defined his parents as the Brierley’s. It went without his having to say so, as his birth mother verbalized that fact. She was just elated that he had found her. She never left the village, and moved around the corner from the house he initially lived in. She stayed in case he came searching. As it turned out, that was such a wise decision.
I enjoyed A Long Way Home so much. Foundation, family and identity are blended together in a beautiful story of strength and perseverance. Saroo Brierley has written an inspirational memoir. I highly recommend it to everyone.