A Long Way Home is Saroo Brierley’s 2013 memoir that was the basis for the 2016 film, Lion. Out of last year’s Oscar contenders, of which I saw all but Manchester by the Sea and Fences, Lion was by far my favorite. It has a lot of heart, it’s well acted and it’s a pretty unbelievable story. There were half a dozen women fixing their mascara in the bathroom after the credits rolled. Saroo’s memoir is a more fleshed out and in depth telling of his journey.
Saroo was born in India and raised by a single mother along with two older brothers and a younger sister. They struggled to make ends meet; Saroo & his brother often begged on the streets while their mother worked in construction. Their father had abandoned them to start a new family.
One evening a five year old Saroo convinced his oldest brother, Guddu, to take him to work with him in a neighboring town’s train station. At the station Saroo fell asleep and Guddu went to find work; Saroo ended up on a train that left the station and ended in Calcutta.
Saroo was uneducated and had limited vocabulary; he struggled to explain his situation to adults and resorted to living on the streets. After weeks on the street, and a few close calls with nefarious adults, Saroo ended up at an orphanage where social workers tried to find his mother. After a few months with no one coming forward to claim him, Saroo was deemed “lost” and available for adoption. Saroo’s young age and limited communication skills led to several mistakes along his original journey. Among other things he was mispronouncing his name, the town he lived in and the town he boarded the train. Also, no one at the orphanage imagined just how far he had traveled (1,680 km!) which limited where they posted notices of a found child.
After less than 2 months in the orphanage Saroo found his way to the Brierley family in Australia where he had a happy childhood. As an adult he began to think about his past which led to him looking for his birthplace through Google Earth. After years of searching he eventually found the town his family was from and went to find them. Miraculously they were still there!
“I feel strongly that from my being a little lost boy with no family to becoming a man with two, everything was meant to happen just the way it happened. And I am profoundly humbled by that thought.”
Saroo explains that his memories of India, despite being only 5 when he left, are so clear because he valued them and consciously tried not to forget anything as he grew up in Australia. He speaks highly of his adoptive parents, in particular his mother, and their decision to adopt a poor Indian child when they could have had children of their own. Overall it’s an unbelievable story and a fairly well written memoir.