I initially grabbed this book as I’m about to start working with asylum seekers. It’s also the first novel exploring the lives of illegal immigrants that I’ve found. Bought for 80p at a second hand booksale, it was a considerable bargain!
Nio is a second generation Greek immigrant, 23 years old, unemployed and living in a self-constructed shack made from old doors, windows and other bits and pieces in a rarely visited corner of St. Pancras’ Cemetery. Mila is a 15 year old illegal Romanian immigrant, living with her family in a troop of caravans just off the North Circular. Central to the novel is Nio and Mila’s complex struggle to realise their love and build a life together while struggling with their families and the authorities.
However, this book is much more than a love story. North cleverly weaves the lives of Mila and Nio and their families, with that of a young university student, Anjali, who has dropped out of her course and is living rough in the city. The characters lives are linked at many levels, some which they are unaware of, but most significant is the all-pervading presence of the sinister Lucas Tooth, who influences all of their fates.
This book completely drew me in; the characters are compelling and I found myself willing them to find a happy ending. North manages to combine raising awareness of many of the very real and practical issues facing illegal immigrants and other ‘unnumbered’ people, with a captivating, dramatic, and frequently moving narrative.
It was also refreshing to read about London from a completely different perspective; the author explores alternative sides to places that many of us are familiar with.