As a sceptical reader with very particular tastes, this book made me cry.
I am a very fussy reader. I’m not afraid to resign a book to the ‘never read’ pile the minute a cliche creeps into the narrative, or the characters don’t resonate with me. If a book doesn’t make me feel something, it’s bye bitch.
When I started The Crossing I was quite sceptical. The book is written entirely in narrative poetry, and as a poet and lover of that style of verse myself, it was very easy to pick up on parts I didn’t like rather than those I did. And it was another story about refugees – what could this book tell me that I hadn’t already seen in the news?
But my god, was I proven wrong.
WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT?
There is a quote from The Crossing that I feel summarises what the book is about best:
‘There are binary stars that orbit each other from birth.
What happens to them?
Eventually, they join.’
This quote is from a scene where one of the protagonists, Sammy, is having a flashback to a conversation with his Baba (father). And not only does it show how beautiful the writing is, but it reflects the way the book is structured.
Two stars – two protagonists – orbit around a central storyline. Sammy, a refugee, trying to escape his home in Eritrea, and Nat, a working class lesbian, trying to escape her familial trauma in Devon. Eventually, they join – and that’s essentially the book’s plot.
But the way it’s told is so beautiful and so moving. Their internal monologues are told through narrative poems, and the ending line of one verse is the start of the next, so their voices feed into each other seamlessly. It gives the book this wonderful sense of play and complexity despite using really simple language, something often denied to children’s books.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ THE BOOK NOW?
If we are privileged enough, then we’ve all seen the newspaper headlines rather than lived it:
‘Refugees drown at sea’, ‘refugees from X country not allowed into X country’, ‘refugees not welcome’, ‘should we give refugees a home?’ ‘refugees should be accepted’ etc etc.
The Crossing is amazing though, in that it shows both sides of the refugee story. We see Sammy’s struggle so intensely because of the poetry its written in. One-word lines become an entire journey:
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, through Nat, we see how working class, hostile attitudes towards refugees can grow. And again, the beauty is, both these things are happening simultaenously but disconnected.
Similarly, I expected to be emotionally detached from this novel. As a South Asian writer, there is no doubt that Manjeet Mann has also experienced familial/inherited trauma of displacement. The Pakistan/India separation of 1947 turned many South Asians into refugees. I wanted to not bring up that trauma, to think about my displaced grandmother, her family’s refugee status.
But I did.
This book hit me so deeply that I started crying at one point. And you don’t need to have a family history of displacement/refugee status to feel that.
This is what we are told in The Crossing:
Refugees should be accepted because they are humans. And there is no better way to humanise and intensify a character, in my opinion, than through poetry.
Manjeet Mann has truly hit the nail on the head when it comes to displaying the trauma on both sides of the refugee crisis. The Crossing is one of my new favourite books of 2021 by far – a lesson in humanitarianism, friendship, and how to write beautiful, impactful stories. Do yourself a favour, and read it ASAP.
**copy gifted in exchange for honest review as part of tour with Random Things Tours