Hinterland by Caroline Brothers
(Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781408817759)
Hinterland is the disturbing story of two Afghan children, who embark on a journey across continents when their family is destroyed by the conflict in Afghanistan. Aryan and Kabir seek sanctuary in Europe, but instead find themselves lost in a dangerous, adult underworld, where desperate migrants are fair game for criminals and brutal police officers with unchecked power. Vulnerable by virtue of their years but toughened by a childish hope, the brothers have a ditty to recite in times of difficulty:
“Remind me where we’re going, Soldierboy.”
“We’re going to school.”
“And when are we going to get there?”
“At half past nine!”
“And how are we going to get there?”
Caroline Brothers, a journalist for the International Herald Tribune with extensive experience reporting on unaccompanied migrant children, does not overtly discuss the politics of immigration in the Europe Union, but the questions are present behind every tragic episode. Why is so little being done to help these children? Why are some European countries deporting them back to Afghanistan, where many have no family left?
The utter isolation of these two children as they travel alone across Europe, through countries that profess commitment to, not just human rights, but the rights of the child, is startling; nowhere are they safe. Instead, Aryan and Kabir are attacked with teargas by French police officers, abused by strangers and ignored by too many in authority.
That is not to say the book is sheer misery; Brothers evokes the beautiful moments of humanity that keep the boys moving. The kind strangers who pay their fare to Paris, the poverty-stricken couple who wash their clothes, the street-vendor who feeds them kebabs and the friendships they develop with other young migrants. There isn’t space for such moments in a newspaper article, but here Brothers uses her novel to bring to life the funny, touching and compelling characters behind the typically, downtrodden stories of refugees in Europe. Every European border official from Athens to London should be forced to read this book.