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Dottie by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Dottie Badoura Fatma Balfour is seventeen years old and has just become the head of her small family in London. Her mother has just died, leaving her three children behind, destitute and at the mercy of social services. Dottie may know nothing of her family’s history but she does know that she wants the remainders of her family to stay together and makes her siblings Sophie and Hudson her responsibility. She works hard and fights to get them back into her care, away from boarding schools and foster families, but has to realise that she cannot take their gratitude for granted. Soon Hudson stops coming home at night, gets sucked into a world of crime, and Sophie quietly moves out and on from one man to the next. Abandoned and without purpose, Dottie tries to find her own identity through books and work, setting ambitions and struggling to achieve them, however far-fetched they may seem. Through the library, Dottie learns about the world. Historic events such as independence movements across the world and the election of Kennedy set the background for the siblings’ personal story and much of what Dottie learns as she grows into an independent adult is analogous to realisations and struggles of the post-colonial societies.

Abdulrazak Gurnah is a master at descriptions that are so real, they linger on your skin and in your mind for a long while after finishing one of his novels. Dottie is a story about the choices we have to make in life, four ourselves and our loved ones, and the realisation that even with our best intentions, things do not always work out in our favour and sometimes our actions have consequences we never envisioned. Gurnah’s vocabulary is incredibly precise and evocative, and his novels leave you angry at society and its institutions hopeful at what kindness individuals can offer, and devastated in the face of the hardships his characters face. You find yourself rooting for Dottie so strongly, who faces all life throws at her with compassion and dignity, that you cling to every glimmer of hope her story offers. Dottie is a beautifully written, a heart-wrenching story that I recommend to everyone who can handle 400 pages of pain.

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