The Journey by Conrad Jones is the story of Kalu, a UK-trained doctor living in Monguno, Northern Nigeria and his family. Kalu, Esse, his wife, and 4 children, become refugees when Boko Haram overruns Monguno. These early scenes are not for the faint-hearted – guns, machetes, rape, burning…
Kalu has been making secret preparations for such an event and he quickly gathers his family in his surgery, distributes necessary supplies and money among them. They escape, initially at night and on foot, through the forest surrounding the town. They find the Land Cruiser that Kalu had hidden earlier and so the long, dangerous journey begins. The danger comes at the family in many forms: Boko extremists who race ahead of the invasion, corrupt border guards, other desperate refugees also trying to escape, and simple opportunists. But they’re also helped by sympathetic well-wishers. Ultimately, Kalu and his family make it to the Libyan coast where they board a trawler to cross the Mediterranean to Italy. The boat capsizes, the family is separated and… I’ll stop there rather than spoil the story’s ending.
The plot races along giving the reader a tiny sense of the desperation the family must feel as it remains just ahead of danger. The story mostly focuses on Kalu and Esse with their children’s characters not being developed in as much detail as I’d have liked. It was an engaging and ultimately satisfying read with several twists and threads to keep track of and wonder about.
Lingering notes Recently I was reading about the taste of coffee and encountered the term ‘lingering notes’ which describes the tastes that remain long after the coffee has been drunk. I wondered whether ‘lingering notes’ are a combination of the taste and memories associated with it. I wondered if the same applies to a book because I finished The Journey several days ago and am well into my next book, but I have ‘lingering notes’ about it. Kalu’s family was incredibly fortunate to have survived the initial attack on their town by Boko Haram, incredibly fortunate to have made the necessary and substantial preparations to be able to escape, and incredibly fortunate to have escaped from Boko Haram. I know it’s ficton, but I like fiction to be ‘at least possible or plausible’. That has been one lingering note for me. Another is that The Journey had several incomplete threads: the attack on the Christian community, the attack on the town’s village and the people’s lives afterwards, and perhaps even some back story of some of the Boko Haram fighters – who are/were they and why are they as they are now? All of which is to say that while The Journey was a fast-paced story, it felt incomplete because the story of any refugee fleeing their home and risking everything is a complex story with many perspectives and deserves to be told fully. These are my ‘lingering notes’.