Pictures from the Fire
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Emilia spends a lot of the time alone locked in a room in a refugee hostel somewhere in Europe, perhaps Germany. She will already be familiar to readers of Hi?yilmaz's earlier story, Girl in Red. This time, the novel tells her story, mainly in flashback through the medium of the pictures she draws in an old diary. It's not her own. She has found it taped beneath the table in the room. This and her stolen crayons are emblematic of a life of poverty and persecution, lived at the margins and in the shadows, first in Romania, then in England, and now in this unnamed country. Emilia and her family are Romanies and refugees, the subjects of suspicion, antagonism and violence wherever they are. To her fearful and secretive parents, their daughter and her pictures have been a source of bewilderment, embarrassment and shame. She and her brother Zoltan look back on their time in England as a time when, for a while, they were able to be like ther children, to go to school and have friends. Now she is back in the darkness and hiding again. This is a claustrophobic book, moving back and forth in time and place to build to a double climax of mob assault in England and at the hostel, as Emilia struggles to look through her window on the outside world with unflinching eyes. It demands a lot of its readers in perception, empathy and stamina. Those who stay with it to the end will be rewarded with a rare experience of literary craft and emotional intensity.