Zana Fraillon, The Ones that Disappeared, 27 June 2017, 256pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780734417152
This was not an easy read for me, though that is a testament to Zana Fraillion’s writing more than anything. I was exhausted by the time I finished this book, but if a book can make your emotions run riot, perhaps that’s a good thing?
This is about child trafficking, about Esra, Miran and Isa who are trapped or kidnapped and kept tending to plants (drugs) for the Snakeskin gang. They grasp hope where they can, encouraging each other to be strong in the face of what they’re forced to do, including the awful beatings used to keep them under control. If Esra is the realist in this story, Miran is the dreamer, the one who finds jokes where he can, while little Isa just isn’t ready yet to face what’s happened to him.
There’s so much honesty in their voices, so much desire to be strong and hopeful no matter what, it’s hard to read. I don’t know what a younger reader will make of this – they might not entirely understand that these children are being trafficked, but they will understand, for example, the pain of Esra being beaten because Miran did something wrong. Such is the punishment and control they endure.
Their bond is tested and strengthened when they escape, and Miran is left behind. Esra and Isa are still together, surviving, when they meet Skeet. I was unsure of his purpose in the book and, for me at least, it took a couple of chapters for him to make sense in their narrative. I confess, I missed Miran, missed his palpable bond with Esra and Isa. From there, the story becomes one of reuniting with Miran, and Skeet helping them, in his own way, to do so.
The power of this story is in Fraillion’s characters, the emotion in her words weaves the simplest of stories – escape and hope. Her writing is tender, fragile almost, as Esra, Isa and Miran strive to stay alive in captivity to escape and find their way home.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow