At my most recent book club we read the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, which turned into the movie Lion. Fair warning — I’m talking about the book and the movie in this post. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Wow. Just wow. Some stories just really move you, and this was one of them for me.
The book is pretty short. I read it rather quickly — just a few hours in one day. The story was so amazing I didn’t even really notice anything about the writing until I talked to one of the girls in my book club, and she thought it wasn’t written very well. Which made me think about it, and it was really just Saroo writing his story.
It’s actually interesting to compare it to A House in the Sky, and how Amanda had a co-writer and how much different her book felt to Nigel’s book. I’d compare Saroo’s book more to Nigel’s — it felt like someone just telling you their story. While Amanda’s book was her story, it was told in such an elegant way.
Saroo’s book was much better written than Nigel’s, but nothing on the level of Amanda’s book. Just a little something I found interesting to think about — the difference an editor or co-writer and certain publishers can make when publishing a book. Nothing wrong with how Saroo or Nigel did it — still very captivating stories and I tore through both of the books, but Amanda’s book was so professional. I digress.
Back to the book — I ate it up. The story is really unbelievable and I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t cry while reading the book, but was really impacted by the story.
Then I saw the movie with one of the girls from my book club, and I am a changed person.
The movie was incredible.
I had already read the book, so I knew the story, but the movie tells the story so well visually. You feel like you are there. It’s exactly what I pictured in my head when reading the book.
The screenplay sticks pretty close to the exact story, with just a few minor things changed or left out. Saroo’s other brother, Kallu, wasn’t shown or spoke of in the movie. In the book when Saroo is lost in Kolkata it’s actually a man that he meets who seems nice and then he can tell he is going to sell him or something so he runs away. And it’s a woman that finds him, takes care of him, but then leaves him when he won’t listen to her. The movie changed that to a woman finding him and basically trying to sell him. In the movie they also omit the story of the old homeless man who saves him twice when he’s about to drown in the river.
I also thought the story of his adopted brother Mantosh was a more full story line in the film than in the book. I don’t know if it’s true, but Saroo doesn’t talk too much about his brother in the book, and the brother seems a bit of a bigger character in the film rather than in the book, but maybe he was protecting his brother’s privacy or something.
I knew the film would be hard to watch, but I didn’t realize how hard. The first 30 minutes until he gets to Australia is gut wrenching. It was so hard to watch. It’s hard to believe that it’s actually a true story, and that a lot of kids have it a lot worse than Saroo for far longer.
I remember the exact moment I started crying during the film — when Saroo is lost in Kolkata and he is in the train station sitting across from the other poor kids. One of the other kids pushes out a piece of cardboard for him to sleep on, and he goes and lies down on it. Right then, I lost it. Just thinking about those kids. And from then on the tears just kept flowing.
The entire movie I just kept thinking how lucky I was just to be born where I was born, to my specific parents. What a privileged life I (and everyone I know) lives. Thinking about all the poor, hungry kids all over the world. The kids who get abused and/or sold into slavery of all kinds, and how there are sick disgusting people out there doing the selling and buying and all the gross terrible other things. All of that was going through my head while watching this film.
My friend summed it up perfectly, she said, “There was a Joanna before seeing this movie, and a Joanna after seeing this movie.” It was just that powerful.
Even though I don’t want to have kids, it made me want to adopt a poor hungry child who doesn’t have a home. Thinking about all the kids that need homes made me especially not want to create a child when there are so many out there already who need good homes (no offense to anyone who has kids, obviously!). Who knows if my hormones will ever change and I’ll want to try to have a child, but I loved how they showed in the movie that Saroo’s Australian mom chose not to have her own kids because she wanted to adopt him and his brother.
In the book Saroo wrote:
Because of all she’d been through growing up, Mum had decided that there was nothing sacrosanct about families formed only by birth parents. Though brought up Catholic, in a culture where women were expected to bear children, she and Dad thought the world had enough children born into it already, with many millions of them in dire need. They agreed that there were other ways to create a family beyond having children themselves.
I actually have a friend who wanted to adopt a child first and then have her own. From what I can remember she wanted the adopted child to know that they really wanted him and they felt by adopting first before having one, that was a way to show that (not that he’d understand until later in life, but still). I just thought that was such a beautiful gesture of love.
The acting in the movie was amazing. There were only a few parts that felt a little forced — the conversation adult Saroo was having with his friends about his story and where they said, there’s this new thing called Google Earth … that seemed a little forced, but it was pretty minor.
I didn’t feel like it was clear in the book what exactly happened to Guddu, Saroo’s older brother who took him to the train station. I knew he died, but wasn’t sure when exactly. Twenty-five years later when Saroo found his family he would find out that Guddu hadn’t come back to get him because the 14-year-old had fallen off a moving train and been killed that night. But I didn’t feel like that was clear until I saw the movie.
One of the most memorable passages in the book to me was this:
Hunger limits you because you are constantly thinking about getting food, keeping the food if you do get your hands on some, and not knowing when you are going to eat next. It’s a vicious cycle. You want something to fill your stomach, but you don’t know how to get it. Not having enough to eat paralyzes you and keeps you living hour by hour instead of thinking about what you would like to accomplish in a day, week, month, or year. Hunger and poverty steal your childhood and take away your innocence and sense of security. But I was one of the lucky ones because I not only survived but learned to thrive.
It just helps put into perspective what being truly poor and hungry is like. How all-consuming it is.
Saroo also wrote about his Indian family:
I look at my brother and sister, particularly, and admire their traditional focus on family and relationships. It is difficult to put in words, but I feel that perhaps there is something in the West we have lost in our impersonal suburbs and emphasis on individualism. I am not a religious person, and that likely won’t change in a major way, but I am keen to learn more about the customs and beliefs of my Indian family, and to see if they offer some guidance for me.
Other cultures have always been interesting to me. Obviously, none are right are wrong — we are just all different and have to figure out what works best for us. That could be a mixture of past traditional ways and new modern ways. If that concept is something that interests you, you might enjoy reading Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love). While it’s her love story, it’s also a study on how a lot of different cultures look at marriage and relationships.
Overall, my thoughts on the book A Long Way Home were that it is undeniably an amazing story that will have you turning the pages so fast you’ll finish the book before you know it. It’s an easy read (albeit emotional), and the movie, honestly, is even better. I recommend reading the book first and then going to see the movie. But bring tissues — you’ll need them.
Okay so there you have the latest book club discussion. If you’ve read A Long Way Home and/or saw the movie Lion please chime in with your thoughts the comments! I would LOVE to hear your perspective!
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