Strengths: Unique perspective of writing (told through the eyes of those who saw her).
Weaknesses: Drags in some parts, the ending is a little too neat.
Why I read it: Sounded interesting, haven’t read many books about refugees.
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Setting: Africa and Europe (predominantly Germany)
Rating: 7 out of 10
If you liked this, try: The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do
Hand Me Down World contains an interesting concept. Why not tell your main character’s story through the eyes of all those who interacted with her? It’s a bold gamble for Lloyd Jones and it pays off for most of the novel. We trace the journey of Ines through the way her colleague at a resort in Africa, giving birth to a child, losing that child and then making the decision to be smuggled to Europe. The truck driver who gave her a lift tells us what happened with Ines (later we get her different version). The man who falls in love with Ines in Germany tells us about her struggle to make contact with her son. The lodger of the man she cares for describes the depths she went to maintain that contact. Finally, Ines gives us her side of the story and it’s not what you were thinking.
Although an original idea, some of the perspectives are too long (Ralf, the old man, and Defoe, the lodger, come to mind) and others can be a little too obtuse for that part of the book – it’s hinting towards things the reader doesn’t yet know about, and might forget the prior hints. The last section before Ines is boring in places as it endlessly repeats what Ines was doing. Some of the perspectives are heartwarming in their generosity toward Ines; others show the more sickening side of human nature.
It’s also difficult to understand what motivates the characters sometimes – Ines, to get caught in a cycle of blackmail, and Aebibi (the boy’s mother) – why did she act the way she did at the end of the novel? Why does she treat Ines in that way? The book does highlight the lack of identity for refugees, but it doesn’t offer any deeper insight or potential solutions. Are all refugees meant to be like Ines? Has Ines done wrong? Who, exactly, is Ines?
You can see that this book raised a lot of questions for me but I don’t have any of the answers – as the reader, I would have liked some more insight.