The Brink of Freedom: A Review by Linda Roger

I am away this weekend at a retreat, so I asked author, Linda Roger, if I could post her review of my novel on my blog. She agreed and here it is below. Linda Roger's forthcoming novel, Bozuk, Exile Editions, fall 2016, is also about tremours, in Turkey, where Europe meets Asia. Thanks again, Linda!

"Blessed are the meek," the firebrand Messiah from Nazareth spoke in his alleged sermon on the mount, "for they shall inherit the Earth." In those days, the Earth was a potentially wonderful legacy - people to meet, places to see, clean water and abundant renewable resources - and heaven an abstraction. The dispossessed had reason to hope, to cross borders in their search for new and better worlds.

 Now they might be excused for turning their faces skyward, to the new nuisance grounds, where the chariots of the gods orbit in space because the earth is a place as dirty and overcrowded as the Roma and refugee camps that fester on the skin of Europe.

Still, in a post global world depleted and impoverished by oligarchs, there are many who continue to hope that a better life is possible on some other shore. That better life is no longer only guaranteed freedom from hunger and oppression, but desperate escape from genocide, and the results of global warming, crop failure and brutal civil war. They are the brave who risk their lives on overcrowded boats, at armed borders and in filthy refugee camps, and encounter the reality of the dream, sometimes the face of kindness but more often bigotry and more violence.

"You know we will never be accepted here (Vijay) said. "They will always look at the colour of our skin and treat us differently."

The brink is a loaded noun. It means the possible and the impossible, the river to cross and the end of the world. The disenfranchised are taking that risk as ancestral earth is scorched and they must flee, for the sake of their children, to a future that is unknown to any of us.

Sadly, in times of uncertainty, the uncertain react with fear and the principles of inclusivity that are fundamental to most ancient belief systems fail. Greece, the once glorious epicentre of Mediterranean prosperity and now the face of Ozymandian melancholy, is the place where a collision of civilisations is happening and the setting for this very ambitious novel.

Weaving the stories of an Indian Dalit, Roma refugees, and a dysfunctional Canadian do-gooder with the fate of a small boy, who cannot survive this collision intact despite his intellectual gifts and the love he is given, is an enormous undertaking. Harvey, whose own roots are Mediterranean, brings considerable experience and insight to this moment in history, where the ancient and modern worlds share the same brink, a crack that lets in the light or presents a deadly chasm.

Greece, at the epi-centre of an old world economy where hospitality was the Golden Rule, is where migrating populations from the Middle East and South Asia are beginning their migration to promised lands: England, Germany, Scandinavia and America. Many are welcomers with food, blankets and shelter on offer, but strange politics erupt from the barren soil of economic depression, the new reality in Greece. Visitors are no longer as welcome as their hero Odysseus was when he washed up on foreign beaches. Tourists, who bring money, are resented, and refugees, who bring equal measures of hope and hunger, are persecuted by an underclass that has no room to share.

The writer is called to witness the diaspora, to view it objectively and channel difficult stories and the potential for hope and redemption. Harvey takes this responsibility seriously.

Her compassionate engineer/police officer with a bleeding heart, Christos, his name no mistake, explains his view of the situation:

"You know papers exaggerate," he said. "Not every policeman is a member of Golden Dawn, nor do we look the other way when someone is beating up a foreigner." He'd jailed three young Greek racists just a few days ago, kids who could easily be his own, for beating an elderly gypsy woman."

It is the young who resist, whether it is confronting social norms in positive and negative ways, and the young who set out to start over, even though that investment in hope has diminishing returns in an over-crowded world.

"Kids were committing such disgraceful acts there days, carving a swastika on a young Pakistani boy's face, setting fire to Chinese owned One euro stores, kicking Roma children who begged on the street. Such senseless violence would once have brought so much shame on a family…"

Remembering Penelope's weaving, it is a challenge to bring the threads together and weave a happy ending. Somehow Penelope managed to will her heroic husband home. Harvey's tapestry has many aspects, woven by tragedy, but also illuminated by the gold threads of redemption shining in decent responses to need.

She keeps it together and the book, despite its insistent polemic under painting, tells an engaging story, adhering as much as she can in a narrative with so much necessary exposition, "show don't tell." There is so much to tell, and because this is a novel and not an editorial, actions speak.

Now that Charlie Hebdo has projected the notion that Aylan Kurdi, the drowned child who inspired so many to action, might have grown into a robber and rapist, it is even more urgent that voices like Harvey's are heeded.

Her novel is about all of us, how we go with or against our better natures in responding to the calls for help that are coming from everywhere, from refugees, from our streets and prisons, our urban ghettos and restless suburbs. How we resolve it may determine whether or not the human race survives, because, as President Obama reiterated in his last State of the Union address, Ubuntu, together, accommodating one another's strengths and weaknesses, we are strong, and will, all of us together, hope to "find safe passage and a welcoming world at journey's end," the portal that welcomes us into the world and sees us out.

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