Siria's Reviews > Hand Me Down World

Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones
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's review
Jan 04, 2012

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bookshelves: 21st-century, new-zealand-fiction
Read from December 28, 2011 to January 04, 2012

Hand Me Down World is the tale of a migrant from sub-Saharan Africa who leaves her job as a hotel maid in Tunisia to go to Berlin in search of the son who had been taken from her. The novel is told from a variety of different perspectives, the people whom Ines—the migrant—meets as she slogs from Sicily up over the Alps and towards Berlin. In some places their stories align; in others they disagree, as one might expect given the vagaries of individual memories and perspectives, the desire for self-preservation. The voices are largely distinct; Jones does a pretty good job of establishing these briefly-encountered people, although some chapters were a little too gimmicky for me (I'm thinking particularly of the elderly woman who collects snail shells).

As a study of identity and of how migrants—particularly non-white migrants—are treated in the West, I think that Hand Me Down World is largely successful. Yet some of Jones' techniques are, I think, problematic. I understand, from a literary point of view, what Jones was trying to do by never telling us Ines' real name or where she was originally from. Yet given the long history of white Western authors using characters of colour as nameless proxies to discuss issues relevant to them, it made me uneasy to finish the book still without a firm sense of who the protagonist was a as a person.
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