The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

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The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Morgan Melchor
Reviewed by Morgan Melchor
Summary: How many lives have you touched without knowing? In this moving book, Ellen Wiles explores the impact of one immigrant’s story as he escapes from political persecution in Eritrea, only to be plunged into a desperate battle against immigration officers, right-wing politicians and baffling double-standards. Yonas Kelati’s story is moving, informative and very current - a thoroughly worthwhile read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 338 Date: November 2017
Publisher: HQ
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0008228811

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This novel follows the plight of Eritrean Yonas Kelati as he tries to make a life for himself in England. He and a good friend, Gebre, escape from prison only to be thrown into captivity again: trafficked in a shellfish factory where they have to earn their ‘payment’ to the malicious Aziz for entering the UK illegally. When Yonas escapes, the story really starts.

What is interesting about this book is the format; Wiles has chapters from my different characters’ viewpoints, in the form of interviews. Not all of the characters are sympathetic to Yonas’ situation and this is where the novel is unique: we are offered a rare insight into the minds of those we disagree with. Although this is a work of fiction, it is so current and realistically written that each individual is entirely credible. As a reader it may be uncomfortable to read about some of the racist attitudes, but I believe it is a crucial step to understanding how to communicate with people who don’t share our views. Wiles has shrewdly provided a sort of instant snapshot of how people think - or perhaps: how people don’t think. So much of this novel is about ignorance; though the characters may not be immediately appealing, we do understand them. This way of thinking, though difficult, can be instrumental in making changes for the better.

Each chapter starts with a headline that is in some way related to asylum seekers or immigrants; Wiles has actually used real newspaper headlines dating from 2005 all the way up to earlier in 2017. The meticulous research gone into her writing is evident in other places as well; we are witness to migrants from other countries as well, and the attention to detail that explains their situations, their way of beings and their personal rituals is remarkable. If nothing else, this is certainly a book that lends insight to difference, and racial diversity.

But, of course, we read for stories; and this is a good one. It wasn’t as I expected; the blurb is slightly misleading, as it suggests that Jude Munroe (Yonas’ barrister) will take a greater role, but the clear focus of the novel is on on Yonas. The myriad of other characters’ chapters are there to offer further insight on him as a character, or to push the story forward; Jude only occurs sporadically. I would, perhaps, have liked to see a little more of her life as contrast to Yonas’, but this is a small criticism.

Despite the hardship, at its core, this novel is about friendship and family - the strength of relationships that bring us through hard times and ultimately make us better people. Yonas is brave and truly compassionate in the face of adversity: whether that be writing against his own government, escaping in a bin lorry, or consoling a gay Romanian immigrant. This serves as a reminder of how blessed the majority of us are; we don’t have to a grand ‘survival plan’ and can go to bed at night in the same place, knowing we will have warm food on the table. This is a modern novel for right now; this is what readers should engage with. Because of its up-to-date relevance, I am surprised at how overlooked ‘The Invisible Crowd’ is; perhaps people to do not want to face up to these hardships that are present in ‘our’ country. But there is such warmth, and real humour - I even laughed aloud at a passage where Yonas describes various racial stereotypes - that there is no need for a ‘doom and gloom’ attitude. Despite its subject matter, ‘The Invisible Crowd’ manages to entwine education, politics and strife to culminate in an uplifting book that speaks to the core of humanity.

Personally, I would like to read more books about Eritrea, but there are many other books that deal with the subject of immigration and integration. Amongst my favourites are We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

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Buy The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles at


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