Lion (originally called A Long Way Home) by Saroo Brierley
Originally published in 2013
My copy: Paperback
At only five years old, Saroo Brierley got lost on a train in India. Unable to read or write or recall the name of his hometown or even his own last name, he survived alone for weeks on the rough streets of Calcutta before ultimately being transferred to an agency and adopted by a couple in Australia.
Despite his gratitude, Brierley always wondered about his origins. Eventually, with the advent of Google Earth, he had the opportunity to look for the needle in a haystack he once called home, and pore over satellite images for landmarks he might recognize or mathematical equations that might further narrow down the labyrinthine map of India. One day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for and set off to find his family.
I heard about this book a few years back and added it to my wishlist – then pretty much forgot about it until the film Lion came out recently, and it clicked that this was a film adaptation of the same book. I ended up seeing the film first, and really enjoying it, so decided to finally purchase the book it was based on.
If you know anything at all about this story, then you pretty much know what happens in the book – and having seen the film there were obviously no surprises here for me! But I still enjoyed reading it. Five-year-old Saroo finds himself lost on the streets of India after inadvertently boarding a train that took him hours across the country. He finds himself in a place where no-one speaks his language and no-one seems to want to help him get home. This book tells Saroo’s story.
Saroo is a sympathetic character and I particularly enjoyed the stories of him living on the streets aged just five – I think these were also the strongest parts of the film adaptation too. It is incredible how he manages to keep his wits about him – and it seems almost unbelievable that he got through those tough weeks and months. Reading these sections, I did find it hard to believe at times that Saroo could remember so much from such a young age – but his memories were obviously incredibly accurate as we find out later in the book.
Years later, Saroo decides it is time to find out where home really is. The way he meticulously and methodically searches for the place he grew up using Google Earth is incredible and very impressive. I think seeing the film first actually increased my appreciation of what Saroo actually did as I could really visualise the painstaking hours spent searching and searching for a needle in a haystack.
One of my favourite parts of the book were the amazing photos in the middle which show Saroo as a young boy, and at the end when he returns to India. These added so much to the story for me.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read and it doesn’t get bogged down in detail or emotion – instead it just presents you with a really incredible story. It’s very moving and I loved the little surprises that cropped up – such as finding out about Saroo’s real name, and the town he grew up in, towards the end of the book.
Whether you have or haven’t seen the film, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about people who fulfil their dreams against all the odds.
My rating: 8 out of 10