REVIEW by Desi Tsvetkova

NWR Issue r36

Lost

by Ele Fountain

After the critical success of her award-winning debut novel, Boy 87, Ele Fountain returns with yet another heart-wrenching, yet eye-opening young adult novel.

Lola is a girl used to luxury – her father owns a successful clothing factory, which allows her and her brother Amit to indulge in comfort in the new flat they recently moved into. Their father informs them that he will be going on a business trip outside the city and might have to stay overnight. Lola and Amit continue as normal; however, things become worrying when a week passes and their father still hasn’t returned. Forced out of their home, the siblings are left to fend for themselves on the ruthless streets of an unnamed city in India during monsoon season. Lola is separated from Amit during a street festival and now must navigate the unforgiving city alone.

I didn’t realize how much of my day is normally arranged by other people. I never had to choose what to eat or, if it was a school day, even what to wear.


Lost is a novel about privilege and how easy privilege can be taken for granted. Living in her gated apartment complex, Lola has never had to imagine what life is like as a street rat – until she becomes one, that is. Suddenly ripped from the comfort of her AC-cooled apartment, her brother and she must learn how to survive in a city that has become foreign to them.

Whether it was intentional or not, I find that the beginning of the novel reads like a fairy-tale: a modern-day Cinderella living at ease with her merchant father who brings her marigold chains after every trip, only to be forced into poverty after his sudden disappearance. The city itself plays the role of the wicked stepmother who shuns Lola and Amit for their loss of home and status; no longer clean and presentable, Lola’s appearance earns her nothing but scorn and alienation: ‘The gate used to be there to keep people away from us. Now it keeps us out.’

Shopkeepers are quick to drive her away lest she steal, and the ladies at the train station’s bathroom tut at her for her unkempt appearance. Everywhere she goes, Lola receives looks of disgust. She is an outcast from her former upper-class society – even Lola’s best friend, Bella, is no longer allowed to be in her company, and Lola is driven away by people guarding the girl’s huge home in the wealthy part of the city. The narrative is heart-wrenching as Lola, at her lowest point, goes to seek help yet is denied simply because of her physical appearance.

Fountain’s prose is direct and she does an excellent job of portraying the slums. The short chapters create a sense of urgency within the narrative, reflecting Lola’s own despair with this new reality she’s faced with, as well as her mission to reunite with her brother. Especially since they are depicted through Lola’s young eyes, these descriptions shock in their detail of the brutality that millions of people have to face every day while trying to survive in the uncaring world of the streets. I find Fountain’s choice not to name the city a very smart move. Despite leaving a trail of breadcrumbs as to where, geographically, the story takes place, the nameless, violent streets that the homeless Lola roams through could be anywhere in the world.

I see them lying at the side of the road asleep. Under bridges are whole families shrouded in plastic and newspaper. Everywhere I look I see people gathered like the rubbish carried by rainwater, also with nowhere to go, until someone sweeps them up and takes them away.


Lola is a brilliantly sculpted character who undergoes a moral metamorphosis after witnessing first-hand the uncomfortable truth of those less fortunate than herself. Her tantrum-like behaviour about not having a phone is realistic, as well as her difficulty being removed from the posh neighbourhood of her friends. However, Lola quickly matures as she realises how dire her situation is. Her character development is evident, especially after she loses Amit. With the help of Rafi, Pia and Mo, Lola quickly unlearns her conditioning as an upper-class girl as she starts seeing the other homeless children as humans rather than ‘target practice’, as her schoolmates call them: ‘Every time I think I have nothing more to lose, another piece of Lola falls away, or is snipped off and laid out in a neat pile on a table beside me.’

The moment that stood out most was the haircut. I was immediately reminded of Fantine from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and these connections made the scene into a striking example of Lola’s growing maturity and strength. The narrative put huge significance on her hair as we are constantly reminded of its softness; this builds up to an incredibly emotional climax where Lola gives the last of her status, the very last of herself, in the name of survival. In my eyes, this is an astonishing act of bravery that transforms Lola from a spoilt adolescent girl into a warrior: ‘Every person needs one person looking out for them.’

Fountain’s Lost shows us that it is possible to find hope in a dismal place where it seems as though no light could ever break through. Lola’s journey inspires the reader to never give up, to keep fighting because nothing is ever truly lost.

Desi Tsvetkova is this season’s reviewer-in-residence, in a new partnership with Swansea University’s College of Arts and Humanities.


       


previous review: Where The Wild Ladies Are
next review: Hey Bert



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