Cover image of "Amnesty," a novel of the Australian immigration crisis

Throughout the 300,000-year history of humankind, people have moved about the Earth as individuals, in families, and sometimes in massive numbers. The immigration crises now facing Europe and North America are symptoms of this reality. And they will only grow more severe as climate change drives hundreds of millions of people from increasingly hot zones to cooler ones. But, for whatever reason, streams of refugees are a global problem, and Australia feels the impact as much as its northern counterparts. Yet numbers don’t do justice to the drama of this challenge. To understand it, we need stories like Aravind Adiga’s novel, Amnesty, about one hapless young man who becomes a victim of the Australian immigration crisis. It’s a moving and often funny tale of an immigrant on the run wrapped in a murder mystery.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

An illegal immigrant on the run in Sydney

Danny—born Dhananjaya Rajaratnam—fled the poverty and ceaseless violence of Sri Lanka for a new life in Australia. A member of the despised Tamil minority, he faced discrimination at every turn. Desperate to reach the promised land Down Under, he secured a student visa by enrolling at a dodgy trade school. But he stayed after the visa expired and he was denied refugee status. Danny now works hard to hide his accent and change his appearance in an effort to pass as Australian. And he has acquired a White vegan girlfriend.

But Danny works as a housecleaner. He splits his meager earnings 50-50 with the abusive Greek immigrant who owns the grocery store where he sleeps in the storeroom. In fact, much of the abuse directed at Danny comes not from White Australians but from other immigrants. And it’s a pair of naturalized citizens of Indian origin that represent the greatest threat to him. The woman is one of Danny’s clients, the man an unemployed drifter she mockingly calls “the doctor” with whom she’s having an affair. And then one morning she turns up dead. And Danny knows, just knows, that the doctor killed her.

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (2020) 272 pages ★★★★☆

Detainees at an off-shore Australian immigration detention center, a symptom of the Australian immigration crisis
Undocumented would-be immigrants to Australia at the country’s off-shore detention center in Papua New Guinea in 2014. Danny walks the streets of Sydney terrified he’ll be caught and sent to such a place. Image: Eoin Blackwell – The Guardian

A moral dilemma, and lots of laughs

We follow Danny throughout the day when the news of the woman’s murder is discovered. He wanders the streets, struggling over whether to report what he knows about the pair and the circumstances of the murder—which will implicate the doctor. He stumbles from one cleaning job to the next, bedeviled by a constant stream of phone calls on his mobile from the doctor. Danny desperately wants to report him to the police, and he finds himself calling the Crimestopper number and quickly hanging up. The problem is, if Danny gets involved in the case, they’ll know he’s illegal and will deport him. It’s a moral dilemma, and one with the direst consequences. But Aravind Adiga treats the story with such a skillful use of humor that you’ll likely find yourself laughing along the way. I doubt anyone else could so successfully draw laughs from the Australian immigration crisis.

About the author

Photo of Aravind Adiga, author of this n novel about the Australian immigration crisis
Aravind Adiga. Image: Frontlist

Aravind Adiga‘s bio on his author website reads in full as follows: “Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras (now called Chennai), and grew up in Mangalore in the south of India. He was educated at Columbia University in New York and Magdalen College, Oxford. His articles have appeared in publications such as the New Yorker, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Times of India. His first novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008. Subsequent novels are: Last Man in Tower (2011), Selection Day (2016) and Amnesty (2020).”

Wikipedia reveals that Adiga is the son of a distinguished family. “His paternal grandfather was . . . [the] former chairman of Karnataka Bank, and maternal great-grandfather was a popular medical practitioner and Congress politician from Madras [now Chennai].” Adiga began his career as a financial journalist. He now lives in Mumbai.

I’ve reviewed three other books by Aravind Adiga:

You might also enjoy 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers or Top 10 great popular novels.

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.