9th June 2000 at 01:00
THE OTHER SIDE OF TRUTH. By Beverley Naidoo. Puffin pound;4.99

It feels strange to describe a novel dealing in murder and mayhem as "lovely", but that's the word that constantly springs to mind. This is a lovely book, not only because it is so well done, but because it offers the possibility of comfort after tragedy that is regrettably recognisable.

Sade and Femi's ordinary, safe family life in Nigeria is destroyed when their mother is gunned down in the driveway of their house. Within hours their father and uncle, a crusading journalist and a cautious lawyer respectively, are arranging for the children to fly secretly to another uncle in London for protection. The plan falters and the children ae abandoned on the streets of the capital, in the winter and at night.

Step by steady step, Naidoo takes us through just what such an experience might be like. I didn't know much about contemporary Nigeria, or about being fingerprinted, or about how care agencies seek to help those in such desperate need, but I do now. Her book is genuinely enlightening and gently but firmly moves the reader through areas that are hard to think about. It is also to be commended for several convincing portraits of good men, and a wonderfully edgy and painful portrayal of school life today.

This is a future classic, and satisfying for all readers, I hope. It made me want to cry.


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