Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Novel explores long journey of a refugee in New Zealand

Brannavan Gnanalingam’s new novel combines his experiences as a Tamil-background Kiwi growing up in the Hutt Valley with reflections on how refugees adapt to a new home.

 Sodden Downstream is set on the day of a rather frequent ‘once-in-a-century’ flood. Wellington's two arterial routes are blocked by landslips and all public transport is cancelled. Against the flow of workers fleeing the city, Sita must make her way to the CBD or lose her zero-hours job as a CBD cleaner.

 “It's a love letter to Lower Hutt, it's an account of people who have been forgotten in New Zealand, and it's about a refugee persisting,” says Gnanalingam.

The novel charts the help and hindrances that make for a long, damp evening. But the book also highlights the kinds of care and solidarity that come out in times of need. Gnanalingam says, “Whenever I've traveled, people with little have gone out of their way to help me. If people want to be cynical about the kindness of everyday, working people then they probably need to get out of their bubble."  

Murdoch Stephens, editor at Lawrence and Gibson, who will release the book, also leads the double the refugee quota campaign.

Gnanalingam says that this book was his “contribution toward that campaign.” 

Stephens says “Bran’s novel is the first truly existential road trip book: Sita owns no car, has no romantic hopes and her journey is one of survival rather than caprice.” He continues, “As with his other books, Brannavan has a knack for pitch-perfect reproductions of the conversation in which real people live.”

Gnanalingam was long-listed for the 2017 Ockham Book Awards for his satirical spy novel A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse. The new book is his fifth.

Sodden Downstream will be launched at 5.30pm on 15 September at Meanwhile Gallery, Lvl 2, 99 Willis St, Wellington with a reading from the author and a performance by Grayson Gilmour.

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