A Long Way Home tells the story of Saroo Brierley, an Australian man who was adopted from India when he was a child. At five years old, Saroo boarded a train from his hometown in rural India with his older brother, Guddu. Due to a misunderstanding, Saroo ended up taking a solo 24-hour journey all the way to Calcutta, where he spent weeks begging and living on the streets before being taken into custody and eventually adopted. As an adult, Saroo spends years using the internet to find his birth family and hometown, and finally returns to India to meet his birth mother when he's 30. Saroo is extremely clear that being adopted doesn't make his ties to his adoptive parents any weaker or any different than those between biological children and their parents. Similarly, he insists that being raised by his adoptive parents doesn't diminish his love for his birth mother. In this way, Saroo's memoir proposes first and foremost that there's no one "correct" way for families to look and instead, suggests that how families behave with each other and care for each other is far more meaningful than simply sharing blood.
Saroo begins by describing the way he grew up in India with his birth mother, Kamla, his older brothers Guddu and Kallu, and his baby sister, Shekila. While Kamla is Hindu, Saroo's birth father is Muslim, and after taking a second wife, he distances himself from Kamla and her children, and is at times violent and abusive towards her. Saroo and his siblings have little contact with their father throughout their childhoods because of this. This then stands as an early influence on Saroo's later belief that blood and marriage are inadequate or incomplete signifiers of family, since his father seldom does anything to support his children with Kamla. Later, as Saroo explains his adoptive parents' reason for choosing to adopt rather than have biological children, he cites a similarly abusive relationship as a major influence on his parents' decision. Mum's father, Josef, was a World War Two veteran who suffered from shellshock and alcoholism and was a terrifying person to be around—so much so that Mum never even introduces Saroo and his brother, Mantosh, to their grandfather. Growing up with a father who was so frightening impressed upon Mum that simply sharing blood with Josef didn't make him family, given that he never acted in a way that made her feel safe, loved, or even capable of trusting men as a whole. Because of this, when Mum did marry Dad, she'd already decided that there was "nothing sacrosanct about families formed only by birth parents."
When Saroo describes his childhood in Australia, he explains that he bonded quickly with his parents, and for the most part led what he considers to be a normal childhood. However, this doesn't dull his curiosity about his birth family and the bond he still feels with Kamla and his siblings, and it's this bond that inspires him to spend his twenties searching off and on for his hometown and Kamla. However, Saroo is very clear that his quest for his birth family isn't an attempt to delegitimize, discredit, or replace the sense of family he feels with Mum, Dad, and Mantosh. Instead, finding them was a way for him to better understand himself and where he came from, including the circumstances surrounding his adoption. Indeed, he states that reconnecting didn't change his identity—he still thinks of himself as Saroo Brierley and an Australian. He writes that finding his birth family simply gave him a second set of people to call family and treat kindly, generously, and respectfully, just as Mum and Dad treated him when they adopted him.
Taken together, the way that Saroo manages to feel at home in both of his families, as well as the fact that Mum, Dad, and Kamla are all endlessly thankful for the ways that their connections to Saroo afford them a much larger familial support network, shows clearly that family absolutely does not need to consist of just two parents and biological children. All of the members of Saroo's family, both Indian and Australian, manage to create families that are strong and loving, despite and even because of the terrible circumstances that have torn them apart and brought them closer together. Ultimately, Saroo insists that a sense of care and the unbreakable bonds that he experiences with both of his mothers are what creates a family, not blood.
Family Quotes in A Long Way Home
Mum and Dad were very affectionate, right from the start, always giving me lots of cuddles and making me feel safe, secure, loved, and, above all, wanted. That meant a lot to a child who'd been lost and had experienced what it was like for no one to care about him.
This episode stayed with me as an example of my mother's courage in turning to face down her pursuers, and also of the vulnerability of the poor in India. Really, it was just luck that the crowds backed off.
I was keen on the idea of having a sibling. In fact, it seemed that the person I missed most from India was my sister. "What do you want for Christmas?" my mum would ask me every year. "I want Shekila back," I often said.
Because of all she'd been through growing up, Mum had decided that there was nothing sacrosanct about families formed only by birth parents.
Mum was delighted when the word came through but also calm: somewhere inside her, she'd always felt that the vision she'd had at the age of twelve had meant it was her destiny to have an adopted child by her side.
She is an advocate of replacing Australia's various state laws on intercountry adoption with a simplified federal law. She's critical of governments making it too difficult to adopt and feels that if it was a little easier, maybe more families would do it.
It was completely different describing my time in the train station to people who knew it as Kolkata's massive Howrah Station, and the river next to it as the Hooghly River.
Mum had such a dedicated belief in adoption and the authentic family that adoption created. I was worried about how my news would affect her, and I wanted to reassure her that of course they would always be my parents.
Even at this first meeting, she told me she was grateful to my parents who had raised me in Australia, and that they had the right to call me their son because they had raised me from a child and made me the man I was today. Her only concern for me, she said, was that I should have the very best life I could.
And even though it was exhausting to go over my story again and again with the media, I thought I had a kind of duty to do it, because it might help people—what had happened to me was remarkable, and might offer hope to others who wanted to find their lost family but thought it impossible.
I began to realize that just as my search for my mother had in some ways shaped my life, her faith that I was alive had shaped hers. She couldn't search, but she did the next best thing: she stayed still.
"Who are your family?" he asked next, and I found myself hesitating. "My family lives in Tasmania, but I also have family here, in Khandwa, in Madhya Pradesh," I said at last. That seemed to satisfy him, and I realized that it had also begun to satisfy me.
But my experiences have undoubtedly shaped who I am today, providing me with an unshakable faith in the importance of family—however it is formed—and a belief in the goodness of people and the importance of grasping opportunities as they are presented.