Amnesty

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 18 Feb 2020

Member Reviews

For international reading purposes this was ideal. A book by an Indian author, set in Australia with a plot revolving around a Sri Lankan immigrant. Plus I’m always interested in what sort of authors win Booker Prize and this one did, albeit for previous work. Amnesty is a book that took 5 years to complete and its deceptively slim volume conceals a very serious meditation on the subject of immigration and social responsibilities. It is, in general, a fascinating question…What does a society owe a person? What does a person owe their society? What is the set of obligations that weaves the fabric of a cohesive social construct? But here it’s made all the more complicated because the protagonist is in the country illegally, a persona non grata, someone whom Australian government declared unwanted, denied legal protection and is therefore existing on the very fringes of society (cash jobs, sketchy living accommodations, etc.) all while trying desperately to fit in. In my opinion the author did a terrific job of representing this way of life and the dehumanizing effects of it, the daily anxiety, the myriad of small and not so small indignities, the constant fear, the lack of security and safety nets and so on. The scams meant to take advantage of those desperate to leave their own country to try to improve their circumstances, it’s how our protagonist, Danny, eventually ends up working at a cleaner instead of getting and using a college education. And then there’s the moral dilemma that this novel is built on…one day Danny becomes aware of a murder of one of his clients and realizes that another client of his might have had something to do with it. These are the people he was fairly close to as far as employer/employee relationships go, so it puts him in an awkward, terrible really, position. To tell the truth would mean not only to turn in someone he knows, but also to risk deportation. And so Danny’s day (the entire novel takes place mostly in one day, outside of flashbacks, backstories, etc.) becomes an elaborate game of the…whatever Australian predator/prey animal analog might be…where the roles are constantly switching as does the power. Doing the right thing is proving to be very complicated, even for a man who knows exactly what the right thing is. It’s one of those life changing character defining moments in a person’s life. The arm on the cover isn’t waving, it’s reaching out to grab a lifeline. And if I wanted to go further with the cover metaphors, which I’m not sure I do, the colored rings are meant to represent the multiethnic society that Danny is so desperate to really belong to…but no, that’s just…enough of interpreting the cover design. Suffice it to say the story is important, timely and interesting, although I somehow didn’t find it as compelling as it obviously was meant to be. The writing was very good, though not quite for me, so it ended up being the sort of book I intellectually appreciated instead of emotionally engaging with it. Something about the writing and I can’t quite put a finger on what it was. The ending might have had something to do with it. Or maybe the certain level of frustration with the main interaction’s dynamics. But at any rate, objectively, this was a pretty good and certainly worthy read. Thanks Netgalley.
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Another great book from this author. Thanks for the review copy, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to more books by Adiga.
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As for other reviewers, this book started out very slow for me.  Ultimately, I did not finish this novel and marked it DNF.
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Amnesty, like a lot of Aravind Adiga's novels, is about the struggle to make one's life better against usually insurmountable odds. Danny, an undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka, is scraping by in Sydney after being denied refugee status. His days consist of cleaning houses, meeting up with his girlfriend whenever he can, and dodging anyone he thinks might be an authority figure. It is exhausting, but he does not want to leave Australia without the option of coming back.

One morning, Danny learns that one of his former clients has been murdered. From details he hears on the news, he suspects that the murderer is another former client, the woman's lover. He spends the rest of the day debating with himself whether to come forward and most likely be deported, or to keep quiet and let the murderer walk free.

I gave this book three stars instead of four mainly because I could sense Adiga being the puppetmaster, if that makes sense. Namely, Danny is not stupid, but he makes some dumb decisions that must be made in order for there to be a plot. For instance, he spends time with very unpleasant people who he must realize openly mock and look down on him, but he chooses to stay. Danny is portrayed as a people-pleaser, sure, but surely not to this extent! But Adiga does do a fantastic job depicting Danny's agonized state of mind, showing us how little he has to gain by coming forward and everything to lose.
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Thank you to NetGalley for a Kindle ARC of Amnesty.

This is the first book I've read by the author so I was excited when my request was approved.

The premise of the plot could not be more timely in our current political climate:

Danny, a humble house cleaner in Australia, has information about one of his clients, a woman he believes was murdered by her lover.

But, to speak up and bring this man to justice would cause him grave consequences because he is not legal.

What is an illegal but honest human to do?

I liked Danny. What's not to like?

He is struggling to fit into his adopted homeland of Australia, a country that refuses him citizenship but a place he strives to call home.

He is a hard worker, living in a grocery storeroom and harboring dreams of being legal. One day. Some day.

The writing is great, lyrical, but I sometimes found the stream of consciousness Danny engages in distracting, but it described his addled, tormented state of mind.

There were some great lines in Amnesty, but my favorite (and I'm paraphrasing here) went something like this:

What do you do when you are unwanted in your homeland but also unwanted in another country? 

I wouldn't call Amnesty suspenseful because the readers know who the killer is, but there is a strange game of cat and mouse Danny finds himself engaged in with the killer, though his primary objective is struggling with his moral code and his responsibility as a human, and losing the possibility of ever achieving legal status.

Danny's plight is honest, real and heartbreaking, a struggle you don't have to be legal or illegal to empathize with. You just have to be human.
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I read about 10% of this, but it just didn't capture my interest. It was a bit hard to follow, and the characters were odd.
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Amnesty is a dive into character study and suspense. Aravind Adiga writes of place and unfolds the plot in a way that enraptures.

If you are familiar with Adiga’s work, you will not be disappointed. If this is your first visit to this author’s work, it is a satisfying introduction.
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