Published by Ink Road on March 16, 2017
If, like me, you judge books by their covers, The Jungle will be a book you won't be able to resist picking up. It wasn't the only reason I wanted to read this book though. The tagline on the front cover was convincing enough along with the blurb which I loved the sound of. The Jungle is Ink Road’s first book and I found it to be a very thought provoking one which had a lasting impression on me.
Mico has left his family behind as he navigates the Jungle, a refugee camp based in Calais. The camp is full of tension and colourful characters who each have their own story to tell. Some of them are plotting their own escape to a better place, but the odds are difficult to overcome. One day Mico meets the inimitable Leila and they too dream of making an escape.
Mico and Leila were both interesting characters. Mico is the protagonist and he is a very up and down character who is capable of snapping in a flash. I found that it was difficult to know what Mico to expect with every chapter but this unpredictability kept me reading on the edge of my seat. Reading this book through Mico’s perspective really helped deploy the sense of anxiety and desperation that is felt in the Jungle. It was not a happy place to be. Leila was a headstrong character who appeared for the most part a confident girl who always has something to say. But there are moments where we see a different side to her too. That was one thing that stood out about this book for me. The characters were almost controlled by this refugee camp they lived in so nothing was black and white. For me there were no characters to love or hate because each one changed throughout, and in a way I felt each one could betray one another given the opportunity.
The Calais refugee camp was built up by the author in a very impactful way, one that allowed me to feel the strain of the Jungle along with Mico, Leila, Hassan, Syed and everyone else we meet. The Jungle was described atmospherically and I felt like I could picture the place really well. With sharp emotions and a sense of unease and tension that could be cut with a knife, there were feelings of hunger, of desperation and fleeting feelings of optimism which really drew me into this short book which the author delivered with power.
There were many different characters in this book, some we only meet briefly and others that come in to the story more as it goes on. With the huge desperation that surrounded The Jungle, it made me as the reader unsure of who to trust. There were choices and actions that the characters made which I couldn’t agree with, and there were also characters that seemed to have little good in them, but I was never quite sure about any of the characters. At first life in the Jungle felt a bit like a dog eat dog world where the most important thing on anyone's mind was how to survive. But there are friendships that surface which surprised and engaged me. Some were more heartening than others but I found it fascinating watching them develop.
I will say that as much as I was looking forward to reading The Jungle, the book itself was very different to what I had been imagining. This isn't a bad thing but it did take a bit of adjusting to once I began the book. The book is only around 200 pages long and whilst I did find the story moving, I thought there was room for more character development, for more of everything really. More desperation, more hope, more action. I found this book absolutely gripping but I felt like the refugee camp theme could have been pushed even further.
Despite this, I really would recommend people read The Jungle. I found it to be a very thought-provoking and insightful read which somehow managed to feel more timely given the state of the world today. Every chapter had me engrossed and the tension, which was huge at the beginning, kept on increasing further and further, leaving me eager to see how the ending of this book would turn out.