A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 1. Remembering Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Saroo grows up in Hobart, Tasmania (an island state of Australia). His Mum puts a map of India on Saroo's wall to make him feel at home when he arrives in 1987 at age six. She also decorates the house with Indian objects, though they look only vaguely familiar to Saroo. Throughout his childhood he spends hours sitting in front of the map. He knows that somewhere in that huge place is where he came from, "Ginestlay," though he doesn't know if "Ginestlay" is a city, village, or a street. He also doesn't know how old he is for sure—the Indian authorities guessed at his birth year, and the month and day of his birthday are when he arrived at the orphanage.
These early recollections of the move to Tasmania, Australia show that Saroo’s childhood memories, though important to him, aren’t necessarily reliable in terms of facts. The fact that Saroo writes “Ginestlay” in quotations every time signals to the reader that while it’s technically a memory, it’s absolutely not correct—it’s a childish mispronunciation of his home, but it’s all he has to go off of at this point.
Themes
Memory, Technology, and Friendship Theme Icon
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mum and Dad aren't sure how Saroo got lost. All anyone knows at first is that Saroo was picked up off the streets of Calcutta and soon after, adopted by the Brierleys. It isn't until Saroo has been in Australia for a year that he's able to explain that he's not actually from Calcutta; rather, he boarded a train from "Berampur," a station near "Ginestlay." When Saroo arrives in Australia, however, everyone focuses on the future, not the past. Mum concentrates on caring for Saroo and earning his trust rather than immediately teaching him English.
Mum’s focus following Saroo’s arrival shows that she places a great deal of importance on building family through actions, not through blood. She’s able to make Saroo feel at home by encouraging him to trust her; it matters little that he’s not her biological child. She also recognizes that trust and family can transcend language barriers, something that will become important to Saroo later as well.
Themes
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Human Kindness Theme Icon
Often, Saroo, Mum, and Dad visit an Indian couple, Saleen and Jacob. They speak Hindi with Saroo and translate as needed. Saroo picks up English quickly, but it takes him a while to be ready to talk about India. As far as Mum knows, Saroo doesn't even think much about it, though this is far from the truth: once he cries out, "Me begot!" and only later does Mum discover that Saroo forgot the way to the school near his home in India. He explains that those memories are precious to him, as they're all he has of his past and he thinks of it often. Because Saroo is determined to not forget, he clearly remembers his past in India, both the good memories and the bad ones.
Again, by allowing Saroo to dictate how and when these conversations about India take place, Mum and Dad show Saroo that they’re trustworthy individuals, and make him feel safe. However, the fact that Mum believes that Saroo likely doesn’t think much about India shows that she may underestimate how important Saroo’s memories are to him—and by extension, might not understand how traumatic it could be that he thinks he “begot” (forgot) them.
Themes
Memory, Technology, and Friendship Theme Icon
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon
Human Kindness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Saroo has a relatively easy time adjusting. Though he misses Kamla, he knows he has to take any opportunities that allow him to survive and thrive. Mum and Dad make Saroo feel loved, safe, and wanted. He keeps his thoughts and memories to himself, in part because he doesn't realize how extraordinary his story is. However, the memories still affect him: he's unable to watch a Hindi movie about a lost boy, and sad music triggers emotional flashbacks.
Later, Saroo notes that he wants to show people how important it is to take opportunities whenever they arise; this is one way he attempts to give back to his readership. In this way, he shows early on that kindness and care for others can take many forms.
Themes
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Related Quotes
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Eventually, Saroo begins to speak. He tells Saleen about his family, and a year after his arrival, tells Mum about how poor his family was. They talk about his neighborhood and together, and draw a map of it with Saroo's instructions. Not long after, Saroo tells Mum about how he became lost. With an incredulous look on her face, she takes notes and marks Calcutta on their map. A few months later, Saroo tells her he's from "Ginestlay," and not long after that, he tells a teacher a more complete version of his story.
This map becomes an early symbol of Saroo’s childhood memories—though in the case of this particular map, some of the landmarks he asks Mum to draw turn out later to be surprisingly accurate. It will come to light that his memories of “Ginestlay” are relatively happy.
Themes
Memory, Technology, and Friendship Theme Icon
Saroo explains that he told Mum and his teacher about the memories he'd held onto since his arrival. There are some gaps, questionable details, and murky divisions between what he thought as a child and what he knows now, as an adult. It was a relief to tell his story as a child and now, as an adult, he hopes that his story will inspire hope in others.
By making it abundantly clear that parts of his story are questionable, Saroo shows that he understands that memory isn’t something infallible. Most notably, it can be compromised by youth (the memories he relays are from his very early childhood) and by fear.
Themes
Memory, Technology, and Friendship Theme Icon
Survival, Poverty, and Childhood Theme Icon