My daughter gave me a Jo Nesbo book for my birthday which I had already read so I took it back to Waterstones to have a browse and choose something else. I spent a couple of hours there- I do love a good bookshop. Anyway, I decided to buy This Is Where I Am by Karen Campbell and what a great choice it turned out to be.
The story revolves around Abdi Hassan,a refugee who has arrived in the UK from war torn Somalia via the dreadful Dadaab camp in Kenya. With him he has his 4 year old daughter Rebecca and a red rucksack. He is sent to Glasgow where the Scottish Refugee Council introduce him to Deborah Maxwell, a recently widowed Glaswegian, who is to be his mentor , helping him to settle in by teaching him about the life, culture and history of the city.
Initially Abdi and Deborah’s relationship is an uneasy one due to the language barrier and their completely different social and cultural backgrounds. Both are unsure as to how to proceed and it is by trial and error that slowly they work their awkwardness into some semblance of familiarity.
This is Where I Am is written in two distinct first person accounts and Deborah and Abdi’s voices are as believable as they are heartbreaking. Both characters are alive and vibrant. They are rounded individuals, compassionate and caring, at times proud and self pitying, but they are always human.
One of the most difficult things for any writer, is to create recognisable, loveable and endearing characters while avoiding cliché, particularly when their subject matter is regularly dealt with in the media but Karen Campbell manages this beautifully. She takes people and situations out of the news and makes them real and right here showing the strife of the lives of others in a way which stays on the right side of sensational.
Being the staunch Glaswegian that I now am I enjoyed all the depiction of Glasgow as Deborah shows Abdi the city. She takes him to Kelvingrove Art Gallery, The Tenement House, Scotland Street School Museum and even to the Scotia Bar.
As the story progresses Abdi has moments of flashback to his life in the Dadaab camp in Kenya and it is in these sections that the full trauma of his life is laid bare and the book reveals its message: give refugees a chance because it is impossible to imagine the darkness that they have experienced. It is a powerful message and one which will resonate with the ever increasing need to provide sanctuary to those in desperate need.
The book is ultimately about humanity. It is a strong reminder that there is more that unites us than divides us. Humanity is shown here with all its faults and acts of brutality but what shines through is love for ones fellow man and the ability to connect with each another across cultures pain and humiliation and to cut through loss and fear by showing love and kindness to each another.
There is so much in this novel and Karen Campbell has done full justice to the various issues she has talked about. It is safe to say that the book is very well researched and the author has done a great deal of homework before coming out with this novel.
And yes, I thought it was wonderful. A tonic for heart and soul.