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Amnesty by Arvind Adiga: A book review

let's talk about immigration, civil war, conscience

What is the opposite of hope, despair, loss, darkness? Whatever it is, maybe it isn’t the best phase of life. We shift from one place to another, one job to another, one person to another in the hope of a better life. The urge of being happy is so euphoric and intoxicating that we just keep on pursuing that abstract idea of happiness. But, what if that chase one day leads us to a pit? And when we get out of it we find ourselves falling into a bigger pit? That’s what I was thinking while reading amnesty by Arvind Adiga. His book White tiger is like a prosperous cousin, winning a man booker prize, turned into an Oscar-nominated movie. I thought of reading this one as it was a much-talked-about book in the community when it got published. Not gonna lie the saffron cover got me, and I thought just like the recent waves of saffronisation, this book might be on the same issue. Yes yes, I did judge the book by its cover. Cliched but true.

The premise of Amnesty is not just promising but also a very serious issue that millions of people all around the world face every single day. Danny, a Sri Lankan Tamil came to Australia on his student visa with the hope of a better future. The LTTE vs the Sri Lankan government leads to a civil war that destroys all opportunities that a normal person aspires to have. The book shows how being a Tamil in Sri Lanka in these times forced Danny in a way to flee from Sri Lanka and try to settle in Australia to lead a normal life. Sri Lanka he left was a war-torn nation where neighbors quench thirst with the blood of neighbors, where owning a wristwatch was a distant dream, where every second guy coming from Dubai or Bangkok is doubted as a terrorist or LTTE sympathizer.

He wanted to shift to a peaceful place, where no one will torture him for hours in the name of interrogation. But I guess fate had some other plans. The college turned out to be a fraudulent one and he kept on staying back as an illegal immigrant. The constant hide and seek that he plays every day to survive is painful, inhumane. It feels amazing to have a stable job, a life partner, a house that you can call your own on land that offers you prosperity, respect, and goodwill. All of these basic things seem impossible for Danny, the protagonist.

Identity crisis is what Danny runs from only to get more identity crisis later in his life.

The book also tells us how immigrants in Australia are treated. You might have heard the stories of the racism that Indians face especially in Australia. How immigrants have to face the wrath of the locals because of their fear of Australia being overtaken by the outsiders. Talking about immigrants, how Dubai treats its immigrant workers is already out in the open. From snatching passports by the employers to holding back wages. Racism exists and Danny experiences it firsthand. His dream of a better life gets shattered when he is forced to live as an illegal immigrant. Hiding from the law enforcement, living in the constant fear of being deported. Most of us won’t understand the pain of leaving our own homeland and live as an immigrant citizen and only <1% of us will know the pain of being illegal. Citizens of a country are blessed with certain privileges which is a dream for others. We often see on the news, people fleeing from Yemen and Syria in boats to Europe and not everyone can complete that journey. This book is an honest way to understand their day-to-day struggles.

Now coming back to the main storyline and narrative style. The book can be a real pain. The repetitive lines and events almost felt like the author is trying to do a revision task for his readers. Often times I felt maybe I am reading the same chapter, again and again, stuck in a perpetual time loop. This made the reading experience nothing less than bland and dragged beyond the limit.

Danny witnessed a murder and he knows the killer and here he enters into a dilemma. If he tells the police his secret of being an intruder will come out and if he doesn’t the killer might search his next prey or escape. The author explores the contradictory lives of two different classes of immigrants, one legal and one illegal. How similar they are yet how different their lives are. While the prelude to the plot is so sound and grounded in reality the actual plot almost drained me out. I couldn’t find the reason for the unnecessary stretching of the plot. It almost feels like a missed opportunity with the book.

And that being said, here’s a question for you.
What would you do? Confess your illegal situation and send your conscience to the grave or be a witness against the murderer and get ready for the consequences that it will follow?


A riveting, suspenseful, and exuberant novel from the bestselling, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger and Selection Day about a young illegal immigrant who must decide whether to report crucial information about a murder—and thereby risk deportation.

Danny—formerly Dhananjaya Rajaratnam—is an illegal immigrant in Sydney, Australia, denied refugee status after he fled from Sri Lanka. Working as a cleaner, living out of a grocery storeroom, for three years he’s been trying to create a new identity for himself. And now, with his beloved vegan girlfriend, Sonja, with his hidden accent and highlights in his hair, he is as close as he has ever come to living a normal life. But then one morning, Danny learns a female client of his has been murdered. The deed was done with a knife, at a creek he’d been to with her before; and a jacket was left at the scene, which he believes belongs to another of his clients—a doctor with whom Danny knows the woman was having an affair. Suddenly Danny is confronted with a choice: Come forward with his knowledge about the crime and risk of being deported? Or say nothing, and let justice go undone? Over the course of this day, evaluating the weight of his past, his dreams for the future, and the unpredictable, often absurd reality of living invisibly and undocumented, he must wrestle with his conscience and decide if a person without rights still has responsibilities. Propulsive, insightful, and full of Aravind Adiga’s signature wit and magic, Amnesty is both a timeless moral struggle and a universal story with particular urgency today.

Amnesty by Arvind Adiga is published by Picador India and you can order your copy buy here.


Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras (now called Chennai) and grew up in Mangalore in the south of India. He was educated at Columbia University in New York and Magdalen College, Oxford. His articles have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and The Times of India. His debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008.

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