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The Ones That Disappeared by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia)
In an understated beginning we discover Esra, Miran and Isa, three children caretaking illegal plants for the drug overlord Orlando. They are branded and, with the exception of Isa, have been in captivity long enough to believe that this is all life has to offer and that nowhere is safe. Isa, as he is adapting, becomes a constant reminder of the cruelty of their journey so far. A fire and a dreadful beating see Esra and Isa escape while Miran is recovering in a police-guarded cell in hospital.
It is an outstanding accomplishment to write characters so precisely that the reader is launched into an elusive world which seems timeless but in fact takes place in a contemporary setting. Details are captured using economical and succinct language, and the precision of metaphor and the transition between harsh reality and fantasy are seamless. Even the riddles told by Miran are smartly selected to provide further insight into the lives of these children.
This book deserves the accolades that winning will bring. It is a masterpiece of depicting children’s view of their imprisoned world and their acceptance of it. But more than this, Zana Fraillon has managed to control her story so that it is not only a tale of a search for peace and hope but manages, under her gifted storytelling, to become a song of coming home.