Hand Me Down World

Overview

We begin in Tunisia, where a young woman's son is stolen from her, taken by his father back to Berlin, far from reach. And yet this mother will do anything to reclaim him; she embarks on a journey first across the Mediterranean, and then across Europe. Her story emerges through a kaleidoscope of voices of the people she meets along the way-a taxi driver, a hunter, a snail collector, a street performer, a blind man-all of whom view the anonymous traveler through their own lens. But her sacrifices won't be fully ...

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Hand Me Down World: A Novel

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Overview

We begin in Tunisia, where a young woman's son is stolen from her, taken by his father back to Berlin, far from reach. And yet this mother will do anything to reclaim him; she embarks on a journey first across the Mediterranean, and then across Europe. Her story emerges through a kaleidoscope of voices of the people she meets along the way-a taxi driver, a hunter, a snail collector, a street performer, a blind man-all of whom view the anonymous traveler through their own lens. But her sacrifices won't be fully understood until she retells her own story, bringing the novel to its powerful conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jones's disturbing but beautifully written account of a wronged mother's long journey to find her son is a near unmitigated downer. An unnamed African woman's story is told by incidental witnesses, beginning with a fellow hotel worker in Tunisia who relates the story of her seduction by a German hotel guest, her pregnancy, and the abduction of the baby by her seducer. He has her sign papers at the hospital and leads her to believe he will take her and the baby with him back to Germany but instead abandons her and takes the baby. The unnamed woman sets out on a harrowing quest a few years later, nearly dying in her attempt to get into Europe. Then, with the cloudily motivated help of various strangers, she finds her way to Berlin, where her son lives with his craven father, whose greed and selfishness are almost a relief when contrasted with the subtler humiliating crimes of the other players. Learning all this history through the perspective of secondary characters has a frustrating effect, further marginalizing an already obscenely oppressed woman. When Ines —an assumed name, the only one the unnamed woman is ever given—at last has her turn to speak, there is little satisfaction. She seems at times simple and goodhearted and at other times, an unintelligent martyr. Even allowing for her being traumatized, her passive reactions to being sexually coerced, arrested, and denied access to her son are not easily justified. For his dedication to moral complexity and his wholly unsentimental portrayal of an outsized tragedy, though, Jones (Mister Pip) deserves praise. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Hand Me Down World slowly reveals itself, like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the story of a mother's determined courage, yet Jones avoids sentimentality. It is also about those who have power and those who do not — and this mother, with all her dignity and savviness, is an unlikely candidate for redemption. Still, she possesses a fierce kind of hope that no one can take from her." –Newsday

"What's most original about this novel is the structure….An absorbing work recommended for fans of Peter Carey, whose novels have a similar dreamy, shifting quality." – Library Journal

"Disturbing but beautifully written...For his dedication to moral complexity and his wholly unsentimental portrayal of an outsized tragedy... Jones deserves praise." - Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
A mother's love propels this latest work from the award-winning author of Mister Pip. In Tunisia, a young woman who works as a hotel maid falls in love and has a baby, but the baby's father steals him, and the penniless mother makes a harrowing trip to Berlin to find her child. What's most original about this novel is the structure. More than half of it is narrated by individuals encountered by the main character (whom we come to know as Ines) during her journey and her time in Berlin. These people are mostly kind but sometimes cruel, and their narratives read almost like short stories as they reveal glimpses not only of Ines but also of themselves and their loneliness. The injustice of Ines's situation is heartbreaking, and the cruelty and selfishness of the child's father is maddening—perhaps the novel's one shortcoming, for he is a more important but less realized character than others. Ines finally tells her own story, and we get a slightly different take on some of those she met on her way—a pleasure of multiple viewpoints. VERDICT An absorbing work recommended for fans of Peter Carey, whose novels (such as Oscar and Lucinda) have a similar dreamy, shifting quality.—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Kirkus Reviews

A young woman's journey from Africa to Berlin to locate her kidnapped son, as told by a chorus of voices.

The latest novel by Man Booker Prize–shortlisted New Zealand author Jones (Biografi, 1993, etc.) centers on Ines, who's working as a hotel maid in Tunis when she falls for a German man. The two have a son, but the father quickly abducts the child and heads home to Berlin, prompting Ines to risk her life traveling from Tunisia to Sicily and through Europe to locate the boy and his father. The first portion of the novel is told by the people Ines met along the way, among them an Italian truck driver who demands sexual favors in return for ferrying her; an alpine hunter who helps her into Austria; an elderly blind man who hires her as a guide in Berlin; and, most prominently, an aquatic scientist with whom she cultivates the closest relationship. In time it becomes clear that the boy's father is extorting Ines, making her pay for access to the child. But only later, when the narrative shifts to Ines' own voice, does it becomes heartbreakingly clear how much Ines sacrificed beyond money for that access, and how willfully oblivious others have been to her emotions. Jones' strategy of withholding Ines' perspective for more than half the book is a little ungainly, and the characters' voices aren't markedly distinct from each other—each speaks of Ines in a somber, sometimes pitying tone, and Ines' voice is glum too. But the scenes between Ines and her son are affecting, showing connections that transcend their language barrier. Some color appears in the closing chapters, as she reveals the depth of her struggle, and the possibility of a hard-won happy ending appears.

A disarming vision of one woman's life in the underclass, though it takes time to come into focus.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608197330
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 10/16/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,076,258
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lloyd Jones's many books include Biografi (a New York Times Notable Book), Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, and Mister Pip, which was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

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