Review - The Jungle by Pooja Puri


(All images except top left - Canva.)

Publication Date: 16th March 2017
ISBN: 9781785300882
Number of Pages: 213


At first, everything had just blurred around the edges but then it had started to darken. As if a thief had stolen into his head and, bit by bit, taken his old life away. Now, when Mico tried to remember, he had to work extra hard. Every morning after waking up, he'd keep his eyes closed and squeeze his mind as tightly as he could, trying to picture everything he had left behind. Some days it worked so well it was as if his entire town had exploded into his head. But those days were rare. Most of the time, it seemed, he could lie there forever and remember hardly anything. 

(The Jungle, Pooja Puri, P6.)

By 2016, mass migration of people towards Europe meant that the population of the ‘Jungle’ camp had reached approximately 10,000 people. According to figures from the BBC News website, over 1000 of those were unaccompanied children. Pooja Puri’s novel imagines the experience of these young people.

Before he comes to the Jungle, Mico’s home in Kenya burns to the ground. At first, he can remember his home, and his family’s faces. With every eventless day, he loses a little more sense of who he is. Mico puts his hope in people like Razzi, who break the law in search of a solution. Until Razzi dies on the tracks of the Channel Tunnel. Mico becomes restless, until he meets Leila – a feisty girl from Egypt who is not going to be contained by the confines of the camp. Amidst the trouble the pair cause, they make a discovery which becomes central to their plans to get to England. 

Through the Jungle prowl ‘the ghost men’. Nobody gets out without paying them. Puri shows the violence and corruption of human trafficking through the omnipresent characters of the Crow and the Lizard, and the network of people in their pay. Puri’s writing reminds me of the best short stories – there is a moment shortly before the end of the book. One scene, one brief interaction. Read too quickly and you will miss it, but notice and it will take your breath away, as your understanding of the situation widens. 

This is an oversimplification of the story. The plot is only the beginning – what Puri does well is show the different voices and experiences of the camp. We are told where the main characters come from, but every character has a different grasp of English, and makes references to their own culture within their speech. Kenyan folklore exacerbates Mico’s fear of the forest, and Leila constantly craves babousa – a type of semolina cake which one Google has convinced me I need to try. 

Without pointing fingers, Puri builds a picture of how the world’s response might have looked to people inside the camp. ‘The French authorities’ remain a faceless presence, often referred to but never seen outside of the Police who patrol to enforce calm. In a scene which I have replayed over and over in my mind, a news reporter offers Leila and Mico extra money if they will pretend to be related to somebody who drowned in an attempt to swim the channel. The reporter does not even want to know whether Mico or Leila are from the same country as the person who died. There is a sense that the world is hungry for news of the camp, but not in aid of a solution. 

This is also a novel about youth. At 15, Mico is old enough to challenge the adults around him, but never taken seriously. He knows when he sees something which does not add up, but cannot always understand in what way. It is also a story about the friendships and attractions and rivalries of youth. If Mico could take one other person to England, would it be Hassan or Leila? If Hassan had to choose, would he side with Mico, or their temperamental friend Syeed? It is also about the right to dream, when all other rights have been lost.

Does it end happily ever after? I thought the ending was honest to life, without denying the characters hope for a better future. Highly recommended – it should be compulsory reading for politicians worldwide. 

Do you think books should have a happy ending? If you have read The Jungle, what did you think of the ending? Please comment below. 

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  1. For MG and YA especially,I think there has to be some hope, which doesn't mean everyone has to survive.

  2. I agree, especially in MG. I think readers have to take something from the novel which they want to apply in life. Perhaps hope is more about message than happy resolution? Great comment.