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No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington
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No Place Like Home

by Caroline Overington

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
There was a unanimous agreement this month that Overington’s No Place like Home was a great read that highlights the real probability of individuals falling through the cracks of our immigration system. Ali Khan’s plight struck an emotional chord with us. His need for support and understanding was incompetently handled from the beginning which led not only to his demise but to that of another innocent.
Could something like this actually happen in our somewhat arguably over documented and red-taped system? Overington did a good job of making it seem so. Her imaginative yet uncontrived plot seemed plausible throughout, and the main characters circumstances believable enough to warrant both hostility and empathy by our group.
It was commented that the straight forward writing style worked well for this story, and we all found it interesting that Overington seems to take on a male narration for most of her novels, this one included.
We continued to have a good discussion on the refugee situation and also that of fostering. A few of us had experience in this area and were concerned about the effect unsuitable fostering could have on children and, in Ali’s circumstances, those from another culture.
We were all moved by the unforeseen conclusion, and the simple matter of connecting with those who are different. Had Ali been managed correctly, the unhappy series of events that followed could well of been avoided. This we are sure is Overington’s message. One that rang loud and clear with us.
  jody12 | Jan 29, 2017 |
There was a unanimous agreement this month that Overington’s No Place like Home was a great read that highlights the real probability of individuals falling through the cracks of our immigration system. Ali Khan’s plight struck an emotional chord with us. His need for support and understanding was incompetently handled from the beginning which led not only to his demise but to that of another innocent.
Could something like this actually happen in our somewhat arguably over documented and red-taped system? Overington did a good job of making it seem so. Her imaginative yet uncontrived plot seemed plausible throughout, and the main characters circumstances believable enough to warrant both hostility and empathy by our group.
It was commented that the straight forward writing style worked well for this story, and we all found it interesting that Overington seems to take on a male narration for most of her novels, this one included.
We continued to have a good discussion on the refugee situation and also that of fostering. A few of us had experience in this area and were concerned about the effect unsuitable fostering could have on children and, in Ali’s circumstances, those from another culture.
We were all moved by the unforeseen conclusion, and the simple matter of connecting with those who are different. Had Ali been managed correctly, the unhappy series of events that followed could well of been avoided. This we are sure is Overington’s message. One that rang loud and clear with us. ( )
  DaptoLibrary | Sep 15, 2014 |
Ali Khan walks into a shopping centre at Bondi and no one takes any notice of him until he starts running. It is believed then that he may have a gun. Outside a lingerie shop called Cups and Saucy he trips and falls and two other people bump into him and fall also. Mouse, the shop assistant from Cups and Saucy, believing that someone else has the gun, drags them all into the shop and the police then lock the door so it cannot be opened from the inside. Ali sits himself down with his back to the door and it is only then realised that he has a bomb strapped to his chest. This is how the story of the siege begins. Attempts are made to communicate with Ali but he seems very frightened and will not answer.
Overington lets Father Paul Doherty, a police chaplain called to the centre, tell the story filling in the back stories of those in the shop, and the tragic story of Ali Khan. She does a great job of making the characters really come to life. Inside the shop with Ali are Mitchell a talented schoolboy from a private school, Vietnamese Kimmi K a nail technician at the centre, and maried real estate agent Roger Callaghan in the shop to buy sexy underwear for his girlfriend.
Ali Khan's story is tragic. He is a Tanzanian feared by his people because of his pale skin. As a result he is mistrated. He comes to Australia as a legitmate refugee but still ends up in detention for a time after a failed attempt at living in a house with Mrs Devlin. After that he is moved into a share house with two other men with problems.
The story reads as a thriller but it is not until the end of the book that we learn exactly what the tragic end of the siege was. I found the end of the book to be very moving.I felt for Ali.He had had such a tragic life. No one in Australia had been able to get throughto him or help him and he had been badly treated in spite of the fact that he was an Australian citizen. This book certainly makes you think about the treatment of refugees in our country. ( )
  kiwifortyniner | Jan 27, 2014 |
This is the third of Caroline Overington’s five published novels that I’ve read and though they are all standalone stories they share some characteristics. The most obvious of these is that they explore some aspect of officialdom that appears to have gone horribly awry and the impact of that breakdown on the people who, often through no fault of their own, become caught up in a bureaucratic and ultimately personal morass. In NO PLACE LIKE HOME the issue under scrutiny is the country’s treatment of…who? Ostensibly it’s asylum seekers but really it’s people who don’t fit neatly in categories that look like “normal”. For although the young man who walks into a Bondi shopping centre with a bomb strapped to his chest at the centre of this tale is a troubled refugee, he could just as easily have been someone with serious mental health issues or an ex-prisoner. Indeed there are plenty of voiceless people who slip through the chasm-sized cracks our modern societies seem replete with.

The novel is told from the first-person perspective of Paul Doherty who at the time of the events was a police chaplain. Called to the scene early on he observes the saga that unfolds after the young man is locked in one of the mall’s stores with several other people and also acts as a victim counsellor after the siege is over. This neatly provides him (and, in turn, the reader) with access to everything we need to learn the back stories of the perpetrator and his victims.

I thought the earlier two books of Overington’s that I’ve read did their jobs well. MATILDA IS MISSING and SISTERS OF MERCY use a combination of decently fleshed-out characters and compelling storylines to explore the issues Overington was trying to highlight. They are not brimming with answers (easy or otherwise) but they did both prompt me to think about my own approach to their individual scenarios. By contrast in NO PLACE LIKE HOME I thought both of these elements, but particularly the character development, were underdone, leaving me with a feeling of being heavily manipulated and rather more like I’d attended a not terribly inspiring lecture than read an engaging work of fiction.

Leaving Father Paul aside for the moment (though we will return to him) the characters were, to me, entirely one-dimensional and stereotypical. Our perpetrator is literally and figuratively voiceless making it impossible for anyone, even intrepid Father Paul, to do anything but guess at his thoughts and motivations and giving him no real substance or presence (yes, yes I do suppose that is the point). For hostages there is the plucky, responsible, brilliant working class boy who has won a scholarship to the kind of private school his single mother (who is, naturally, a cleaner) could never have afforded. And the impossibly quiet Vietnamese woman who works at a nail salon and whose extended family run a restaurant. And the repugnantly self-absorbed and materialistic real estate agent with the vapid, spendthrift wife and coke-sniffing, stripper girlfriend. Bit players include the Howard-hating leftie whose espoused beliefs prove superficial when tested and the well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual, over-privileged rich woman whose intervention on behalf of the perpetrator falls far short of what is really needed. Even Father Paul, in some ways the most well-developed character of the bunch, comes from an unusually (but stereotypically) large Catholic family of 9 (or 8, I may have misinterpreted a line).

My problem with such characters is twofold. Firstly it made it fairly easy for me to predict what would happen in the story. I don’t mean to suggest any special insight on my part but frankly I didn’t see how it could unfold any other way given how each of those archetypes would traditionally behave. But the biggest problem I have with the using of such characters is that it significantly reduced the power of the book’s exploration of important ideas. My gut reaction goes something like “since I know for a fact that most people are not a walking stereotype then events like this could never actually happen“. But, of course, that isn’t true. I mean it is true that most people are not a walking stereotype but it doesn’t necessarily follow that a different mix of people could have achieved a better result. It would have been far more thought-provoking to have had this sort of story play out with a more realistic, less stereotype-dripping cast of characters. As it stands I think readers get off far too lightly in being able to tell themselves that what has unfolded would never happen if they themselves were one of the players (because few would identify themselves with any of the major players in this novel). For me the real power of Overington’s other novels was that people would see themselves or their loved ones as the participants in the bitter child custody battle at the heart of MATILDA IS MISSING for example and be prompted to genuinely re-think their own approach to such a scenario. Here we can all happily walk away tut-tutting but knowing this doesn’t apply to us.

It might be a by-product of this shallow characterisation or perhaps it evolved entirely in its own right but the story here wasn’t up to par either. It is compelling enough but there are long passages that read as if they belong in a slightly dull but instructive magazine article rather than a work of fiction. The depiction of life inside the Australian detention centres through which all non-queue waiting asylum seekers must pass is one such passage. Top and tailed by a too-conventient introduction from Father Paul it reads like news. I don’t mean to suggest the content of the description isn’t disturbing but I don’t think this kind of near-reportage does the job of prompting people who don’t already know this information to re-think their own beliefs and ideas. Thought-provoking fiction has the opportunity to engage a reader in a way journalism and other non-fiction cannot but I did not get that sense of engagement here.

And finally we return to Father Paul. I’m prepared to admit that my reaction to this aspect of the book might say more about me than it does about the book itself. But I’m really not convinced that it is only because I was raised in a traditional Catholic household and have retained close ties to many Catholics (including a priest or two) even though my own practice of the faith has lapsed that I found Father Paul’s narration jarring. If he were only sharing his observations (in the way that the lone, male observer/narrators of Overington’s other novels did) I would not have taken issue but the fact he is revealing the thoughts, fears and secrets that people shared with him in his role as chaplain/counsellor disturbs me. Again it’s not terribly realistic (I don’t care if he is a former priest by the end of it) but it also feels like a cheat. Like it would have taken more effort to actually get to know the characters so instead there is a convenient repository for everyone’s inner truth. In summary form. And who cares that no priest I have ever known would betray people in such a way?

I don’t know whether to recommend NO PLACE LIKE HOME or not because although it isn’t for me it’s clear from other reviews that I’m pretty much a lone wolf on this one and there’s every chance I might have missed the point entirely (Australian Women Writers Challenge founder Elizabeth Lheude proposes the book is actually satire). All I can say is that based on my experiences with the author’s other books and the overwhelmingly positive reviews of this one, I expected a potentially confronting but ultimately rewarding reading experience about a topic that desperately needs to be addressed in a meaningful way; far from the spotlight of sound-bite media and vote-needy politicians. And I was disappointed.
  bsquaredinoz | Jan 27, 2014 |
The story takes readers through the background of all the people who are locked in the shop with Tanzaniaan refugee Ali Khan. The narrator is former Catholic priest, police chaplain Paul Doherty, who contacts each of the people locked in the shop after the event for trauma counselling.We benefit from the research he has done about each of these people.

Part of what each reader must ask herself is how you would react in this situation. The shopping centre is in lock down with the voice of Senior Sergeant Boehm booming instructions over a loud speaker system. And yet Ali Khan is showing no sign of understanding.

The book also broaches issues with which Australians are familiar, or are we? Do we really know how refugees are treated under the Australian border protection systems? What are the detention centres housing refugees and asylum seekers really like? Why was Ali Khan, a genuine refugee who has an Australian passport, in Baxter and Villawood for four years? This is a book that will make you think.

And Paul Doherty has his own problems too, his own crisis of faith, which perhaps does not make him the best narrator.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME is written as a thriller, and, true to form, we do not find out what happened in the last minutes of the siege until the very end.

A good read by an Australian author to look for. ( )
  smik | Dec 27, 2013 |
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Shortly after 9.30 in the morning, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi's newest shopping complex. He's wearing a dark grey hoodie - and a bomb around his neck. Just a few minutes later he is locked in a shop on the upper floor. And trapped with him are four innocent bystanders. For police chaplain Paul Doherty, called to the scene by Superintendent Boehm, it's a story that will end as tragically as it began. For this is clearly no ordinary siege. The boy, known as Ali Khan, seems as frightened as his hostages and has yet to utter a single word. The seconds tick by for the five in the shop: Mitchell, the talented schoolboy; Mouse, the shop assistant; Kimmi, the nail-bar technician; and Roger Callaghan, the real estate agent whose reason for being in Bondi that day is far from innocent. And of course there's Ali Khan. Is he the embodiment of evil, as the villagers in his Tanzanian birthplace believe? Or simply an innocent boy, betrayed at every turn, who just wants a place to call home?… (more)

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