‘Amnesty’ by Aravind Adiga

Danny (Dhananjaya Rajaratnam) is illegal. Having arrived in Australia from Sri Lanka on an education visa, he’s ducked out, gone underground and now hiding in plain sight in Sydney as a freelance cleaner. Life looks good with his regular clients paying him cash, he spends time with Sonja, his Vietnamese vegan girlfriend – and he’s even splashed out for blonde highlights. But, in the course of just 24 hours everything crashes around him when he recognises a murder victim as one of his clients.

Faced with a moral conundrum, Danny wrestles with inaction as he recalls time spent with Radha, the murder victim, and Prakash, her lover and ensconced in an apartment owned by her husband. Danny cleans both apartments. Both are gambling addicts and the two adopt Danny as a kind of non-participating companion on their Pokie-playing trips. But then Radha’s dead body is discovered – with Danny recognising the jacket in which the body is wrapped as belonging to Prakash. So now Danny must decide: come forward and risk being discovered as an illegal and deported – or keep quiet and risk Prakash getting away with it.

But even if the police believed you, and phoned [Prakash], he would guess at once you were the one who dobbed him in,
and in return, he would dob you in as an illegal. He would call the immigration dob-in number bout the Legendary Cleaner who was illegal, give his name, and what he looked like, and where he lived, because the dead woman had told him everything

Over the course of this single day, Danny’s routine is shot as he assesses and evaluates his life past, present and future: his dreams, his feelings for Sonja, the discombobulation of undocumented illegality of life in inner-suburban Sydney. But, most of all, he reflects on Radha and Prakash, whose very apartment is scheduled to be cleaned. As a non-resident does he, Dhananjaya Rajaratnam, a person without rights, still have responsibilities? It’s this dilemma that provides the scaffolding of Aravind Adiga’s third novel.

The strength of Amnesty is not the storyline which evolves into melodrama with text messages from Prakash himself adding to Danny’s fears and confusion. What separates Adiga’s novel from the spate of contemporary inner-city Sydney angst novels is his explorations of legal and illegal immigration and the fundamentals of Australian racism in spite of its proud boast of cultural diversity and heritage.

Easiest thing in the world, becoming invisible to white people, who don’t see you anyway; but the hardest thing is becoming invisible to brown people, who will see you no matter whatan archipelago of illegals, each isolated from each other and kept weak, and fearful, by this isolation.


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