The Other Side of the Ocean
by Beverley Bell

"But no. The house was gone. And the people were gone too. The whole neighbourhood was blackened, and Saah saw none of the familiar faces he had come to know so well."

Survival is a constant struggle in this historical novel set during the civil war that shook Sierra Leone in the '90s and early 2000s. Saah Kamandu does not remember a time when war didn't ravage his country. Though it remained distant in the background of his childhood, it finally found its way to his front door during his teen years in Freetown, Sierra Leone. His entire life is uprooted as he struggles to survive with the only family he knows to be aliveā€”his brother-in-law. In a landscape where death is at every corner, Bell takes us on a perilous journey as we follow their story, witness the horrors of war, and the pains he and his brother-in-law must go through to survive. Despite how emotionally heavy the plot can sometimes be, Bell still portrays rays of hope along the way.

From Sierra Leone to Guinea, Ghana, and eventually, Australia, Saah must overcome more than just the physical hurdles that come his way on his path to survival and leading a good life. The plot follows Saah's life from childhood to middle age and his struggles with trauma, identity, and culture shock that follow his arrival in Australia. In the early chapters of the novel, it can be difficult to keep up with Saah's age. However, by the time he is in Australia with none of his family, his age is easy to keep track of as his thoughts mature when he must learn to live alone in a place that is entirely different than what he is accustomed to. Seeing his internal growth is perhaps a ray of hope in itself that neatly ties the first half of the book (where survival is physical growth) with the rest.

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