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Archive for the ‘Malawi’ Category

Reviewed: The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney, Quercus

The Invisible OnesHaving had my fill of South African thrillers, I turned with anticipation to The Invisible Ones.

Stef Penney won the Costa Award in 2006 for her debut novel The Tenderness of Wolves, which was set in Canada in the 1860s. She’s taken her time with this second book, and it’s been worth the wait. The Invisible Ones is a marvellous mystery set in the Gypsy, (or as they are now known) Traveller community in England.

Small-time private investigator Ray Lovell wakes up in a hospital barely remembering how he got there. He has been looking into the disappearance of a young Traveller wife. The only reason he was given the case is that he’s half-Romany himself, otherwise the community would shut out any gorjio – non-Gypsy – investigator. Gradually he rebuilds the story of his investigation and its startling story.

This vanishing world is intriguing, with its ancient lore and customs, and Penney illustrates beautifully the pride of a people forced to live on the margins of society, disdainful of the idea on living “in bricks”. The story twists and turns until it reaches an astounding climax. A gripping read.

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Reviewed: 3,096 Days by Natascha Kampusch, Penguin

3,096 daysNatascha Kampusch was just 10 years old when she was snatched on a Vienna street and imprisoned in an underground dungeon. Eight years later she sprinted to freedom. The world was mesmerised by her story, the depredations she suffered, the suicide of her captor and her unquenched will to survive. It has taken her four years of recovery to write this fascinating book and the young woman who emerges is dignified, thoughtful and wise beyond her years.

Wolfgang Priklopil locked her in a five square metre cell behind a metre-thick concrete door. When she was older she was occasionally allowed up to do the housework, but always half-naked. Bizarrely, Priklopil’s mother used to come and stay with him in the house, not knowing of the wretched captive far below her. Natascha was beaten and starved, and clearly molested too, but she refuses to write about this aspect, begging privacy from what she has found to be a very prurient world.

It has been an unspeakably difficult road to recovery: she has battled the police who bungled the investigation into her disappearance, and faced down a public who wanted a broken victim, not a defiant, self-possessed survivor. (Helpful people sent her their old clothes and offered her jobs cleaning their houses. When she refused she was labelled ungrateful.) But recover she has, as she writes ‘What I have experienced also gives me strength: I survived imprisonment in my dungeon, freed myself and remained intact. I know that I can master life in freedom as well. And this freedom begins now, four years after 23 August 2006. Only now can I put the past behind me with these pages and truly say: I am free.’

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