What Is She Doing Here? by Kate Clanchy
|What Is She Doing Here? by Kate Clanchy|
|Reviewer: Katherine Stanton|
|Summary: A remarkable and unforgettable memoir of a friendship with a Kosovan refugee.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 300||Date: June 2008|
When I was first asked to review Kate Clanchy's 'moving memoir of a friendship with a Kosovan refugee' I was far from enthusiastic about it. I suspected it to be yet another woeful tale which would eventually end up rubbing spines with all the Child Called It replicas and tragic real life stories. I have no problem with people making money out of their misfortune (ahem) but these sorts of books can hardly be branded an enjoyable read can they?
However, What Is She Doing Here? turned out to be one of the most remarkable books I have ever had the fortune to read.
I was expecting a story so horrific and alien to me that it would almost be fictional. However Clanchy has brought the horror so close to home that the reader is forced to accept the harrowing reality that is life as a refugee.
Antigona and her family fled from Albania to escape an oppressive regime and Antigona's abusive husband. Antigona's family disowned her because she left her husband, although they knew perfectly well what he was like. Under the ancient rites of Albania, if a husband murdered his wife no one would bat an eyelid. The first time that Antigona met her husband, he raped her, taking her sacred virginity and thus forcing her into marriage as no one else would accept such damaged goods. Antigona had to undergo six abortions just to avoid a life of poverty and labour. Antigona and her family now live in East London but that does not necessarily mean her troubles are over.
You need to read this book. What Is She Doing Here? needs to be serialised in the Daily Mail. If, like me, you don't consider yourself particularly racist or anti-immigration but have occasionally had a reckless thought about those who 'sponge off our taxes', you need to read this book. It will change your mind about so many things.
This book doesn't just summarise the horrors of the world. It is a touching story of friendship, between Antigona and Kate Clanchy, who go from employee and employer to close friends and advisors.
Clanchy's involvement in the story is the key to how much of an impact this book has on the reader. Clanchy is the representation of all of us – the British middle class – and the attitudes and views that we hold about asylum seekers and immigrants. By existing alongside Antigona in the story, Clanchy's cosy British life causes Antigona's struggles to be all the more emphatic. By writing this book, Clanchy has forced herself to take a long hard look at her own life as well as forcing the reader to do the same.
The ending is not climactic; neither does it end happily ever after. Why would it when this is real life? The events in this book are true and even more tragically – similar events happen everyday to thousands of people.
Every year, Comic Relief comes and goes. We watch the sad videos of emaciated children with bloated bellies; we feel bad and might donate a tenner. However, the next day we wake up and get on with our own lives, worrying about things that are incredibly trivial in comparison. That won't happen once you have read this book. Clanchy has mastered the art of eye-opening. You will never forget Antigona's story and after reading 'What is she doing here?', you will think twice about complaining about those who 'sponge off our taxes'.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For a fictional look at what it's like to be an immigrant we can recommend Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan and Bone China by Roma Tearne. If you'd like to look at non-fiction books on the subject then you might like to consider Greetings From Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor and If You Don't Know Me by Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton by Sathnam Sanghera.
You can read more book reviews or buy What Is She Doing Here? by Kate Clanchy at Amazon.com.
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