So, my first thoughts surrounding this book was thinking it was some kind of Life of Pi parody. The actor on the cover of Lion looks very similar the actor who played Pi in the film adaptation. Additionally, Pi learns to tame a Bengal Tiger in a boat at sea. I thought the title of Brierley’s book, Lion hinted at similar challenges. Silly thoughts aside, three relatives had recommended me this story, one of which cried in the process of reading it, so I was eager to get the pages turning. What I didn’t know before starting Lion, was that is was a remarkably true story.
Saroo was born and lived his earliest childhood memories in a poverty-stricken area of India. Living with two older brothers and a younger sister, food is never in ample supply, but the family find ways to get by, living on things like food scraps and anything gained from begging. On one night, older brother Gaddu takes Saroo along on a food expedition for the very first time. The situation complicates, and Saroo finds himself lost as a five year-old and trapped on a train heading to Calcutta, a city foreign to him and miles away from home. Lion is Brierley’s breathtaking memoir, documenting his long search to find and return home and connect with the family he left behind.
I honestly think Brierley’s story is remarkable and definitely deserves its spot in the limelight. I didn’t suspect it to be a true story before finding the pictures Brierley and his family in the middle of the book, because the story has a really good plot and could easily pass for well-written fiction! Life seems to imitate art in Brierley’s case. If anything good has come out from his ordeal, it’s a wonderful and magnetic story-telling ability. It’s amazing how well Brierley can remember the details of his childhood through the monumental effect getting lost had on him. I love the fact that the more popular this novel and the film becomes, the more of a happy ending it has – giving Saroo Brierley the opportunity to regularly visit his blood relatives in India and make up for lost years.
Besides images of the Taj Mahal and rickshaws flashing to mind at the mention of India, I’d say Western culture has very little knowledge of its lifestyle and living conditions. Lion is an eye-opener to say the least! It was very emotional to read about the orphans on the streets and the dangers that can take them, not just physical danger but risks posed by people no hint of morals. I vigorously read on as I would with dystopian fiction, desperate to see whether the characters, or in this case, the real Saroo, made it out okay. It wasn’t difficult to sympathise with Saroo, and what kept me reading was a keen hope for his happiness and a family reunion. I devoured this in three days.
On the flip side of stranger danger is are the small yet selfless acts of strangers. On a few occasions, Saroo’s life is changed for the better following simple gestures of kindness. It proves that small acts of generosity can have a big and lasting impact on a person’s life, and this book is great at showcasing the beautiful nature of humanity. Brierley states somewhere in the novel that he wrote this book to act as a model for other lost children, as there are so many cases of wandering orphans. He wanted to inspire them to persist and find happiness.
Lion demonstrates a test of human endurance, and how family love can overpower any form of adversity. I would highly recommend Lion to anyone, and I’m going to search for the film!
(Strangely enough, every book I’ve read about India I’ve really enjoyed, so if Lion is your cup of tea, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and Trash by Andy Mulligan might be worth a read too)