The History of a Word 02/07/20
The Ghosts and Jamal
Publisher: Hope Road Publishing
Thirteen-year-old Jamal wakes one day to find that all the other inhabitants of his West African village have been killed. He alone has survived, his hut being some way from everyone else’s. He surveys the destruction around him, trying to make sense of it. Then he packs his copy of the Qur’an and sets off in search of food and safety.
This is a powerful and moving story, set in a violent world and perceived through innocent eyes. When Jamal finds the lethal gas canister responsible for the carnage, he presumes the wisps of yellow gas to be soul-seeking ghosts. He concludes that he survived because they were scared off by the evil spirits that he knows possess him – the spirits that sometimes cause him to twitch and fall unconscious.
Throughout the book, ignorance about the epilepsy which causes Jamal’s regular fits makes him a target for prejudice and suspicion. Even well-intentioned medics and humanitarian volunteers who try to help him are guilty of a fundamental failure to understand the implications of the condition for a boy in Jamal’s position (naively instructing him to keep his medicine stored in a fridge).
This is a beautiful, mesmerising book, its harrowing nature both tempered and augmented by the fact that it is told from Jamal’s perspective of youthful simplicity. It does not end with tidy answers, but rather leaves the reader with uncomfortable questions about a world which can allow such intolerable inequality and brutality.