With the death of Winnie Mandela currently in the press, the appalling footage of the South African apartheid regime has also been replayed on the news. For those, like myself, who were not alive, or were too young to remember the apartheid, this has educated me to the segregation and harrowing treatment of black South Africans during this period. I am not old enough to remember the jubilation of the freedom of Nelson Mandela in 1990, nor him being democratically elected as the President of South Africa in 1994. Author Beverley Naidoo grew up in Johannesburg and, as an anti-apartheid campaigner, was arrested and subjected to solitary confinement. Eventually seeking exile in England, Naidoo started to highlight the political oppression of the South African apartheid to a new audience.
The Other Side of Truth, published by Naidoo in 2000, is a winner of the prestigious Carnegie Award. This book is more relevant today than it has ever been. It tells the story of two child refugees, eleven year old Sade, and her younger brother, Femi. Their father is a Nigerian journalist who writes stories exposing the truth of the political oppression and violence that engulfed Nigeria following the execution of journalist Ken Saro-Wira in 1995. Similarly to the South African apartheid, the people of Nigeria who stood against the dictatorial government suffered crippling brutality, particularly journalists. The story opens with Sade getting ready for school. She hears gunshots and witnesses her mother being shot and murdered by a gang. Folarin, their father arranges them to be smuggled out of Nigeria, using fake passports, in order to protect his children.
“Two sharp cracks splinter the air. She hears her father’s fierce cry, rising, falling.”
The Other Side of Truth is a powerfully told story of the plight of African refugees in England. This is a situation which should be all too familiar for modern readers, as a result of the war in Syria. Catapulted into a foreign land, and separated from their father, Sade and Femi have to learn who to trust and, crucially, what truth is. They have to learn when it is best to tell the truth, when it is best to lie, and the consequences of doing this. There is an underlying conflict throughout the novel that balances these questions against each other. Folarin, their father tells the truth in his articles, yet as a result, their mother was murdered and the children had to flee Nigeria.
This conflict and constant questioning is enhanced by the book’s narrative voice, which constantly asks questions. This prompts the reader to also ask themselves the same questions. Naidoo’s narrative is effectively told from Sade’s perspective, putting the reader in the shoes of the children and it pulls no punches. Juxtaposed with Sade’s memories of Nigeria, violent scenes, corruption and bribery are told through the children’s perspective, highlighting the innocence of those affected by war. The internal conflict of Naidoo’s characters between the truth and lies makes The Other Side of Truth genuinely engrossing. It will keep you turning the page to see how/whether the conflict is resolved.
“It was so difficult to know what was right and wrong any more. And doing the right thing could lead to awful things happening”
This book also shines a spotlight on the indifference and hatred shown towards refugees. It brutally depicts the customs office and refugee detention centres. Rather than being welcoming, they make refugees feel like criminals simply because they are having to flee their homeland in order to survive. Naidoo also realistically portrays the school bullies, who bully Sade because she is different. This novel explores racism and constantly challenges the reader to question their own attitudes towards refugees. You constantly ask yourself why children are being treated this way, considering the horrific events that they have experienced. It is a question that we should all ask ourselves today regarding Syrian refugees.
“Refugees? They were those winding lines of starving people, with stick-thin children… Refugees were people trying to escape famine and war. You saw them on the television. Were she and Femi really refugees?”
Thought provoking, enthralling and incredibly relevant to our current climate, I would recommend everybody to read this brilliant book. Hopefully it will help more people understand and empathise with Syrian refugees, and others who have been displaced by war.
RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐