Danny’s thoughts about wanting to meet a mermaid as a child are interrupted by the lady asking him, “What are you?” He is baffled by the question. Then she elaborates that he is a “perfectionist” because of the way he made his sandwich, THEN she tells him that what she has just said is irony. Danny knows the definition of irony. He is just a little confused by the context in which it has been used. Danny, although meticulously working on his Australian accent, dropping his V’s, mimicking mannerisms, is still Sri Lankan. Australians continue to confuse him.
Danny is a Tamil man. He is one of a minority. Firstly, a minority as a Tamil in Sri Lanka and now a minority as a Sri Lankan living in Australia. He knows no other way of living.
Danny is living in Sydney, but he is doing so illegally. He is an “illegal”.
He did not arrive on a sinking boat full of refugees all fleeing homelands, most of them for their lives. He arrived in a plane. He had a visa and was attending a technical college. He had applied for refugee status but had been refused. Ironically his legal entry into the country proving detrimental to his application.
He became an illegal immigrant when he, after recognizing the college course for the scam it truly was, dropped out and then overstayed his twenty-eight days allowed to all immigrants who drop the course. After the twenty-eight days expired so did all his rights in Australia.
For the past couple of years Danny had been cleaning apartments around Sydney and keeping his head down. Although anxious about being discovered and deported, he was flying underneath the radar quite successfully until one of his clients was murdered by another. Danny just happens to know both clients. They were having an affair and had taken a liking to him and often took him along on outings. The novel then becomes quite suspenseful with a “cat and mouse” scenario playing out. Frantic phone calls are frequently made between the killer and Danny. Danny is paralyzed, fearful that if he turns the killer in to the police then he will be deported. Then there is the fact that the killer while threatening to tell the authorities about Danny’s illegal status may in fact just be going to kill him.
The narrative takes the form of Danny’s day and chapters are broken into precise times of the day, but there is no order, apart from progression. Progression to the time Prakash, the killer, will be hopping on a plane to South Africa. This heightens the suspense and as the day goes on the phone calls become more regular and it almost feels as if you, along with Danny, are on a train track heading off a cliff, safety brakes disabled. Prakash wants Danny to meet him, and clean his house, before he leaves the country.
Again, however, this novel is about much more. It is about illegal immigrants and refugees. The cold dark liminal world they are forced to live in. But it is also about legal refugees. They may be legal in the eyes of the law, have the right papers, but many must still feel outsiders, especially those who have fled their homelands simply to survive, a choice forced upon them, not a choice at all. So many treated as second class citizens.
As you read on you realize that Danny and Prakash are metaphorical representations of the two types of immigrants. Illegal and Legal.
The novel is also a study of morality and ethics. If you were in Danny’s shoes would you be able to make the morally correct choice and turn Prakash in, knowing that the result would be your deportation? Danny wants to make the call, he believes in the law and justice, he struggles with the decision throughout the whole book.
Will he make the call?
The format of the time intervals makes the novel an enjoyable and suspenseful read. And Adiga does a good job of providing a peek into the world of illegal immigrants in Sydney.
Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras (now called Chennai), and grew up in Mangalore in the south of India. He was educated at Columbia University in New York and Magdalen College, Oxford. His articles have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Times of India. His debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008. Its release was followed by a collection of short stories in the book titled Between the Assassinations. His second novel, Last Man in the Tower, was published in 2011. His third, Selection Day, was published in 2016.
I could not find an interview with Adiga discussing "Amnesty", but if you are like me I love listening to authors talk about anything. So here is Adiga at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.