review by Maryom
Peirene Press have made their name as publishers of short, translated fiction, but this collection marks the start of a different project - commissioning authors to explore current issues through fiction, to bring social problems to life in much the same way that Ken Loach's 1960s film Cathy Come Home shed light on homelessness.
Behind the headlines of thousands of refugees heading to the UK are real people, individuals with their personal stories and problems, fears and pressures - fleeing war, persecution, hoping to be able to help family back home or maybe be reunited with family they've been separated from. So for breach, authors Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes went to the 'Jungle' in Calais and spoke to the refugees, volunteers and locals before putting together this collection of eight short stories exploring various aspects of life for those in, and outside, the camp.
These stories are not intended to be verbatim accounts of things told to Popoola and Holmes, but reworkings of the tales they heard. After all, a good newspaper article can wring tears or anger from the reader; this process I would guess is nearer to an author drawing on their own experiences while writing fiction rather than autobiography.
Through the progression of eight tales, we see the plight of the Jungle's residents from a variety of angles; young men, refugees from various places, still trying to make it across Europe to Calais; the enforced calm of the Jungle where violence often lurks just below the surface; the attitude of volunteers, happy to hand out aid but not wanting to get involved at a personal level, and the contrasting view of those forced to accept this charity; the wary French locals, sympathetic and suspicious at the same time; the desperate measures risked to get on a lorry, van, train, or anything going towards England; exploitation by fellow-refugees turned people-smugglers and the often hostile reception that waits once the lucky ones eventually find a way across that slim stretch of water.
Above all, these stories are immensely readable - yes, they're undoubtedly thought-provoking but the story never plays second fiddle to the message.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult contemporary fiction, short stories