Rosalind Russell’s creative non-fiction novel The End of Where We Begin is a compelling feature of the refugee experiences of displacement, loss, love and hope. This captivating novel revolves around three main characters: Veronica, Daniel and Lilian, whose life stories progressively emerge into an unusual exposition of human resilience. Rosalind expertly draws from her crossover from journalism to novelism to tease out succinct storylines and still maintain the characters’ voices. Essentially, she makes the real-life stories read like a novel. Daniel, one of the key characters in the book, remarked at the novel’s launch in Kampala:
“It is one thing to read about your life written about in a book… this is not just a book about me; this is my life story!”
This novel explores the lived experiences of those who are often glossed over within statistics on refugees and displaced persons. It uniquely amplifies the narratives of refugee experiences and shares them with mainstream audiences. The reader often has to remind themselves that what they are holding is not a work of fiction. Your own reality rings home when each of the characters’ lives unfolds right before your eyes. I was tempted to recall wherever I had been on the dates and years of each of the events described in the book. There is no doubt that a reader of this book will reel into a trance of deep personal reflection, questioning how it is that we all inhabit this world but experience it radically differently. Nonetheless, one is encouraged by Daniel’s pursuit of an education against all odds and Lilian’s hopeful strides amidst the uncertainties of ever finding Harmony, her son. The occasional stories of budding romances and the unending expectations of a better life ahead also keep the novel’s storylines a lot more relatable.
The novel’s plot is evenly paced out for each of the characters to be adequately developed. Its division into two parts contextually demarcates the transitions from earlier mundane life in South Sudan (Part 1) into a battle for daily survival in the Ugandan refugee settlement (part 2). The author also sets the mood of the novel in her ‘author’s notes’ that sufficiently prepare the reader for the emotional roller coaster ride they are about to experience. Both the prologue and epilogue do an excellent job in their respective easing-in and easing-out for the readers. With occasional hints, plot overlaps and foreshadows, the author controls the pace of the novel to reveal a profoundly caring masterpiece. This care is not just for the characters that the author evidently spent extensive time with but also for the readers. Rosalind creatively depicts ‘heavy’ scenes in a manner light enough for one to carry on with the story.
This novel offers a rallying call to those who take their safety for granted. It provokes a necessary discomfort that could increase the wananchi’s (the public’s) interest in supporting those who may, unfortunately, wind up as refugees.
I recommend this book unreservedly, to lovers of creative literary writing, but more especially to those willing to explore the perils of war and human displacement.