book review: no place like home by caroline overington

This book was sent to me by Random House Australia. I have been asked to write a review and my review is truthful to my opinion of the book.


From the press release:

From bestselling author and award-winning journalist Caroline Overington comes another thought-provoking and heart-rending story, that reaches from the heart of Bondi to a small village in Tanzania.

Shortly after 9.30 in the morning, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb around his neck.

Just a few minutes later he is locked in a shop on the upper floor. And trapped with him are four innocent bystanders. 

For police chaplain Paul Doherty, called to the scene by Superintendent Boehm, it’s a story that will end as tragically as it began. For this is clearly no ordinary siege. The boy, known as Ali Khan, seems as frightened as his hostages and has yet to utter a single word.

The seconds tick by for the five in the shop: Mitchell, the talented schoolboy; Mouse, the shop assistant; Kimmi, the nail-bar technician; and Roger Callaghan, the real estate agent whose reason for being in Bondi that day is far from innocent.

And of course there’s Ali Khan. Is he the embodiment of evil, as the villagers in his Tanzanian birthplace believe? Or simply an innocent boy, betrayed at every turn, who just wants a place to call home?

If you have yet to read anything by Caroline Overington, I suggest that you change this immediately and No Place Like Home is a good place to start. In the fifth novel from this brilliant Australian author, No Place Like Home, like all of Overington’s novels, makes a serious comment on the nature of our society and circumstances that occur within it. There are interesting parallels between the events conveyed in the book and what is happening in every day Australia.

When Ali Khan, an albino Tanzanian refugee, walks into a large shopping complex in Bondi, he is scared and confused. A series of events leads to Ali being trapped in a lingerie shop with the shop assistant, a nail technician from a nearby salon, a school boy and a real estate agent. Ali has a poorly made home made bomb chained to his neck and chest. The book explores how police chaplain, Paul Doherty, comes to dissect the “event”. Unsurprisingly, the central focus is around refugees and the implications of their resettlement in Australia.

Overington sums up a snippet of my feelings toward how Australians treat refugees with the following sentences:

“I often wonder what people from overseas make of Australia, when they come to visit. We’ve got such a beautiful country – beauty rich and rare, with boundless plains to share – but pick up any newspaper or turn on talkback radio and you’d think that the biggest problem we’ve got is that we’re about to be swamped by refugees.”

When you look at it closely and in relation to the rest of the world, we hardly have a refugee problem. We take in so few and we have the capacity to take in more. But whether she intended to or not, Overington points out in No Place Like Home how much needs to change in our processes before this can happen.

Even people who will loudly and proudly say that they support the rights of asylum seekers have a long way to go. The character of Marjorie, a woman who takes in Ali for a ‘home stay’ once he is granted Australian citizenship is rude, ignorant and expects a lot from him. She thinks that because she takes in international students who are studying at university and refugees that it doesn’t make her racist, but she is incredibly racist.

“I’m pretty sure that part of the reason that Marjorie was upset to see that Ali Khan wasn’t black was because he wouldn’t stand out on her landscape. She had signed up to the program hoping to take in refugees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, people in headscarves basically, that she could parade around, showing how tolerant she was, even if the Howard government wasn’t.”

I thought Marjorie’s character was brilliant as it highlighted the ignorance surrounding refugees here in Australia. Yes, they are excited to be here in Australia but the majority would be suffering post traumatic stress, would have family members left behind, some in prison or murdered, and their treatment once they’ve arrived could barely be called humane.

“I put my hand out. I said, “Hello there, young man.” He didn’t answer. I thought, what is going on? From what they’d told us, the refugees were supposed to be delighted to meet us. They’d won the lottery coming to Australia. Here I was, welcoming hime to Australia. Giving him safe passage. Opening my home to him. But he didn’t say boo.”

While the story was centred around Paul’s own personal investigation as to what happened to Ali, we receive an insight into the lives of the other characters. Learning about their lives and the events leading up to them being in the shopping complex with Ali Khan was fascinating. It demonstrates how a series of small decisions can lead to someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time and how they just as easily could have been elsewhere.

It is a gripping read and it took me only a matter of hours to finish. Overington knows how to write a real page turner with just enough elements of truth that you believe you are reading a true story.

As with all of her novels, I highly recommend it. She is a brilliant writer and I am always excited when I find out she is releasing another novel.

Visit Shellyrae at Book’d Out to see what she thought of No Place Like Home. 

Image supplied by Random House Australia.

For more information about Caroline Overington and her writing, you can visit her author page here and her website here.

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