A Long Way Home

by

Saroo Brierley

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A Long Way Home: 7. Growing Up Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By the time Saroo begins high school, he feels like any other normal Australian teenager. He still runs through his memories of India, but they’re very much in the background of his life. The ethnic makeup at school is more diverse, which helps both Saroo and Mantosh feel at home, and both boys participate in sports. By fourteen, Saroo is running off to drink with friends and his girlfriend, which he insists has nothing to do with being adopted and everything to do with being a teen. Eventually, Mum and Dad give Saroo an ultimatum: leave school before Year 12 to work, go to university, or join the military. The possibility of the military reminds Saroo of the horrific children’s homes in India, and he applies himself to academics.
Saroo can now engage with his childhood memories on his own terms, as he's very much adjusted to life in Australia. Essentially, his childhood of poverty and fear hasn't necessarily had lasting negative effects that he is still dealing with as a young adult. Mum and Dad's ultimatum reminds Saroo that it's important to take opportunities when they arise, something he's upfront about wanting to impart to the reader as well.
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After finishing school, Saroo begins a three-year accounting program and gets a job in hospitality. He enjoys his job so much that he soon leaves accounting behind. He works in bars and clubs around Hobart but after a few years, decides he wants more. He decides to pursue a degree in hospitality management, and receives a scholarship to the Australian International Hotel School in Canberra. His work experience means that the course will only be a year and a half. The move turns Saroo back towards thinking about India.
Saroo moving to Canberra is notably a move away from his adoptive family, but because it also turns his thoughts toward India again it is also a move towards his birth family, showing again how family can take many forms and is always present.
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In Canberra, Saroo soon discovers that there are a number of Indian students at school, many from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). This is the first time he’s heard Hindi spoken in years, and it’s the first time that he feels as though he’s the Australian in the group. The students welcome Saroo, and he soon becomes comfortable being Indian and enjoying Indian culture. Saroo tells them his story, which proves very different than telling Australians about it: the Indian students are familiar with Kolkata’s Howrah Station, the Hooghly River, and the Howrah Bridge. Because of this, they understand his story differently; while it’d been a fairy tale for Australians, it’s real for them.
Through the Indian students, Saroo is able to rekindle interest in his own story because of their interest. Essentially, he uses the fact that for these people, his story is far more real and compelling than it was for people in Hobart to renew his own belief in the value of his memory. Their information also gives him more of an adult perspective on his childhood memories, as they begin to make more sense with these mature insights.
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Related Quotes
Because of this, Saroo feels as though his past is more present than it’d been in years, though he doesn’t find that it makes people think differently of him. The exchange students also become detectives when they hear about it, and they all want to find his hometown. He reminds them that even the authorities couldn’t find “Ginestlay” or “Berampur,” but this doesn’t deter them. Saroo believes he was on the train for twelve to fifteen hours, but he recognizes as an adult that his memory of being on the train is fragmented, likely because of the overwhelming trauma.
Saroo's recognition that his childhood memories are likely compromised by trauma illustrates how much he's grown up and come to view his memories as possibly more of a story than as hard fact. Now, as an adult, he also can better understand that he certainly had some facts wrong if the authorities weren't able to help him then.
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Saroo becomes friends with a girl named Amreen. Her father works for Indian Railways, so he asks if she’d ask her father for help locating “Berampur” or “Ginestlay” stations. A week later, her father suggests a Kolkata suburb called Brahmapur, a remote city in West Bengal called Baharampur, and a coastal city called Brahmapur. Saroo rules out the first suggestion outright, but he wonders why none of the authorities tried to look for Kamla in any of those places. The other two cities also seem unlikely, as neither seem far enough away from Howrah and Saroo hadn’t seen the ocean until he flew over it to Australia. His friends suggest that Saroo looks as though he might be from West Bengal, and he begins to wonder if his memories are incorrect.
West Bengal is relatively close to Kolkata, which would then mean that Saroo definitely misremembered how long he was on the train (it would be much less than fifteen hours). The suggestions that Amreen's father offers show that it's not just Saroo's childhood memories that are confusing; he's fighting a system that makes validating any of his memories difficult because of how many "Berampur" variations exist all over India, and how huge and sprawling the country is in general.
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Saroo also begins to use the internet to search for clues, though the internet of 2007 is much more difficult to find things on than it is today. Saroo searches for many different spellings of “Ginestlay” and “Berampur” with little success. His memories of the layout of his town, however, remain vivid, and he feels like if he could see the town, he’d recognize it. None of the available maps are detailed enough to show small villages, but finally Saroo hears that Google Earth might be helpful. He begins searching for “Berampur” and finds many all over India, but he starts with the two that Amreen’s father suggested. The landmarks around those towns look very different than what Saroo remembers, and neither have the distinctive water tower.
The fact that Saroo's visual memory is clearly superior to his verbal memory could be a product of his learning style, but it could also be a symptom of growing up in poverty and not learning language skills. He relied on visual cues to locate himself and get by, and verbal cues simply weren't as useful for him as knowing that the train station looks a specific way and is near a water tower. This kind of memory isn't as compatible with the tools available to someone with internet access, as the internet overwhelmingly relies on verbal knowledge.
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This is somewhat disheartening; Saroo wonders how much may have changed in the last 20 years since he was there. He fears he won’t be able to recognize the station if it’s been remodeled, and he understands too that his inability to come up with a correct place name means that the search function won’t help much. Internet speeds are also still very slow, and eventually, he decides to limit the amount of time he searches. He finally gives it up completely, and he wonders if he needs to just move on.
At this point, Saroo recognizes that the internet is just as capable of proving that his task is impossible as it is of helping him find his hometown. Saroo's success will come down to whether or not he can extract anything more useful out of his childhood memories to then match up with what the internet can provide.
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Saroo finishes his degree in 2009 and soon moves back to Hobart. He realizes almost immediately that he’s no longer interested in hospitality, and decides to work for the family business selling industrial hoses. Mantosh joins the business as well. Coincidentally, Dad began the business the day that Saroo arrived from India. Saroo also begins a new relationship and soon moves in with his girlfriend. He realizes that tracing his roots isn’t the most important thing, and he doesn’t feel incomplete. He focuses instead on all that his parents have given him.
Saroo can relatively easily turn his attention back to his adopted family and recognize that his relationships with them are fulfilling regardless of whether or not he finds his hometown, making it very clear just how strong Saroo's relationships with his adoptive family are. This adds more weight to his assertion that families formed by adoption can be just as strong as birth families.
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