Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones
John Murray Publishers (November 2010)
Paperback, limited edition, 320 pages
This is a story about a woman. And the truck driver who mistook her for a prostitute. The old man she robbed and the hunters who smuggled her across the border. The woman whose name she stole, the wife who turned a blind eye. This is the story of a mother searching for her child.My Thoughts:
My copy of Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones is one of 100 limited editions. Readers of these copies are asked to register their copy online using the unique code written on the first page, and then hand down the book to someone else after they have finished reading it.
From the book's website: "Hand Me Down World follows the changing fortunes of an African woman, Ines, an illegal migrant, who must find her way to Berlin. Her fate and indeed her story are in the hands of others. Like Ines, we want these books to be carried by the people who read them and journey, as they are passed on from reader to reader. They are Hand Me Down books."
Ines is on a quest, traveling from Tunisia in North Africa to Berlin, in search of her abducted son. Her son was stolen from her when he was just days old by his father and taken to Berlin. She has nothing but her maid's uniform and a knife stashed in a plastic bag, so she must rely on strangers to guide her to Berlin and her son.
Even before Ines started her journey she is like a ghost who strives to blend into the background. She continues as a ghost in the marginal life she is living as an illegal. She tries to be invisible as she travels to Berlin and lives there. She is purposefully silent, noiseless in much of the novel.
Hand Me Down World is told through first person accounts. The first two-thirds of the novel consist of the testimony of various people and their encounter with Ines on her journey to Berlin. We don't hear Ines' point of view until the last third of the book.
As the story is handed on from one person to the next, we are ostensibly following Ines' story and travels, but we are actually only seeing fragments of her and the truth. It's all about our perception of what is happening. When Ines tells her view of the events, it becomes abundantly clear that all the narrators are unreliable. There truly are two sides to every story, and the truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in the middle of the different versions of her story.
While I enjoyed the novel, it did lose some of its sense of purposefulness when Ines was in Berlin, working for Ralf, and Defoe is the narrator. Once Ines tells her story the novel recovers nicely. Hand Me Down World proclaims a mother’s love for her child but it is also a novel about displacement.
I was with her at the first hotel on the Arabian Sea. That was for two years. Then at the hotel in Tunisia for three years. At the first hotel we slept in the same room. I knew her name, but that is all. opening
She told me once that as soon as you know you are smart you just keep getting smarter. For me that hasn't happened yet. That's not to say it won't. When the Bible speaks of eternity I see one long line of surprises. It's not to say that particular surprise won't come my way. I'm just saying I'm still waiting. But she got there first when she was promoted to staff supervisor.. pg. 8
She walks to the window. Maybe she will see Jermayne and the baby, and she does. There they are - well, the top of Jermayne's head. There is also a taxi. The back door opens and a woman gets out. Jermayne hands over the baby and the woman cradles the baby in her arms, rocks the baby, looks at its face for a long time, then lowers her face into the bundle. pg. 16
She begins to doubt the words of the crew. Or else something had happened. That was more believable because something always happened. Whatever was supposed to happen rarely did. pg. 22
The barmen look like barmen, raised from birth to become barmen. They have the same large faces, lower jawbones that weigh the face down beneath folds of flesh that enclose secrets. They have been trained to listen in such a way that they do not remember. They are like the elected representatives of ghosts. pg 27-28
She was African. Did I say? She wasn't carrying any luggage. Which made him think she was a prostitute. She wore a coat. A scarf around her neck. When she climbed up to the cab she unwound the scarf and put it in her coat pocket. pg. 31
I collect snails like others collect vintage model train sets. I am a collector. I collect the Roman snail and the larger Helix aperta. They are remarkable. The shell is so delicate. What creature would create its work of art out of the very fragility that condemns it? pg. 37-38
The other ghosts - the real ghosts if I may call them that - are simply those whom we choose not to see. pg. 63