HIP READ: Dhanmondi Road
Review By Elly Gibson
Dawn in the desert in Dubai and the Al Marmoum racetrack is buzzing. Twelve camels and their jockeys await the starting flag. The tension burns along with the intense heat. By the end of the 4km race two jockeys – boys as young as 8 years old – and a handler will be dead.
Robin Young wastes no time throwing the reader straight into the action in Dhanmondi Road. His energetic and authentic writing reels you straight into a world so different from our own.
It’s 1973 and young Australian Gareth McKinley has left his long-term girlfriend Andrea at home to study while he travels around Europe with his friend Tom. After witnessing the horror of the massacre at the Munich Olympics, he’s in London as Young’s tale begins, looking for some direction.
5,000 miles away the Bangladesh war of independence is over, but its long-term scars remain. Gareth arrives in the ravaged country from England with a YMCA project set up to care for some of the thousands of orphaned and destitute children that the war has left behind.
But it’s once he steps off the plane that his journey really begins.
While Gareth considers himself well travelled, he hasn’t experienced life outside European culture, and the sights, sounds and smells of first Cairo and then Calcutta shock him. Soon he arrives at House 6, Dhanmondi Road, which is to be his home for the next 12 months.
At first overwhelmed by the level of poverty he witnesses and the scale of the work ahead, Gareth slowly gets to grips with his new friends and environs. He busies himself with the task in hand readying the ‘boy’s town’ for the new arrivals, and soon they have many boys in residence. Under Gareth and the team’s care, the boys begin to blossom.
But once the physical hard graft getting the project off the ground is done, life becomes more complicated for Gareth. He is quickly drawn to American charity worker Tori and has to question whether his heart lies at home in Australia, or here in this new world.
Emotions and situations are heightened in the claustrophobic melting pot of this ex-pat community. Everything is extreme – from the weather conditions to the post-war resentments of the locals – and both Gareth and Tori find themselves in fear for their lives as the drama unfolds.
The plot comes to a head when some boys from the project cannot be accounted for. Is their disappearance linked to the book’s opening pages at the Al Marmoum racetrack? Does a mysterious letter from Dubai hold the key? Who should Gareth trust? And can he and Tori find the missing children before it is too late?
All in all it’s a big thumbs up for me for this debut novel from East Sussex resident Robin Young. It’s a memorable coming of age story of a flawed but likeable hero.
Young’s writing is as honest as it is informative, and he observes the human condition well. He moves through his story at just the right pace, and his characters are strong, plausible and fully rounded. It was easy to share Gareth’s panic when he thought his life was in danger, his confusion over making sense of his old and new relationships, and his frustration and incredulity at the fate of the missing boys.
I feel like I gained something from this book and it stayed with me afterwards, which is so important for a reader. I look forward to his next work.
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