When Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to find his long-lost home town half a world away, he made global headlines.
Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia.
Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pore over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for. Then he set off on a journey to find his mother.
I don’t think I’ve ever said this before in my life, but this was a book that would be better portrayed as a movie. Most of my reasoning behind this is that a lot of the scenes need a soundtrack to make them more exciting. I loved the story of Saroo’s quest to find his family, but there is only so much any author can do to make endlessly searching Google Earth interesting. Admittedly, the description of his Google Earth trek only lasted a few paragraphs and was interspersed with paragraphs of other events, but my eyes still glazed over and I had to focus on focusing. It was a lot more fun in the movie trailer when there was fast paced music and the perspective zoomed through the Indian country side. Or maybe I just suck at visualising written geography.
With that said, I found Saroo’s story to be incredibly captivating and moving. While there wasn’t the side-splitting humour of Anh Do’s ‘The Happiest Refugee’, there was a quiet humour in Saroo’s recollections. The only part that threw me into embarrassingly loud whoops was the reveal that Saroo had pronounced his name wrong first to the Indian police and forever after, and was in fact originally named Sheru. This fact is more heartbreaking than hilarious, but the slow build up and dry wit brought humour to the tragedy.
What I enjoyed the most about ‘Lion’ was the insights it gave me into so many aspects of both India and overseas adoptions. ‘Lion’ deals with some pretty heavy stuff – Saroo was a five year old living on the streets of Calcutta and barely escaped physical and sexual abuse numerous times. As someone who has never experienced extreme hardship, it’s very easy for me to compartmentalise the emotional advertisements from charities like World Vision. Reading memoirs like Saroo’s allow me to empathise more, and I’m so grateful to people like him for sharing their stories and helping me to understand.
I’d definitely recommend ‘Lion: A Long Way Home’ to someone who enjoys a good memoir, or is looking to while away a quiet afternoon. I’m actually looking forward to watching the film adaption, as I’m keen to see if I’m correct about Saroo’s story being naturally suited to a movie structure.