by Helen Matthews
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I thoroughly enjoyed After Leaving The Village and found myself engaged from the very beginning. The story starts with Odeta, a young Albanian teenager, desperate to leave her small village and the drudgery of working in her family’s shop. She is lured away to London by the charismatic Kreshnik, who promises work in his family’s clothing business. The fact that we know where this is heading adds to the feeling of doom that surrounds the naive Odeta. When Kate is introduced, living next door to where Odeta is kept prisoner, it provides a welcome relief from the grim reality of Odeta’s existence. Kate is new to her neighbourhood and plans a party so she can get to know her neighbours to start building a community around her and her family. There are signs of discord in her family as she and her husband differ in their approach to their son, whom we assume to be on the Autism Spectrum. There are also clashes between Kate and her husband concerning her work as a journalist and her plan to take her whole family offline for a series of articles she is pitching to her editor.
The story continues, alternating between the two women’s lives, which we expect will collide at some point. The contrast between their lives couldn’t be greater, and yet they share common origins as they both come from small villages. The anticipation of their meeting develops cleverly and increases the tension, which builds to a climax which is exciting and well crafted. I found myself wanting to yell “Come on!” I was tempted to skim and rush ahead to see what happened, but forced myself to read every word and it was well worth it. I didn’t want to put this book down - I was so absorbed in it. It is extremely well written, with the characters well observed and believable. The only slightly off note was a detail in Kate’s back story about a car accident, which felt redundant and like a distraction to me. I assume this was included to flesh out her character, but I didn’t think it necessary.
Overall I thought this was a skillfully written, thought provoking book which tackled the difficult subject of human trafficking. I was initially doubtful about it, as I thought it might be too depressing and hard to read. However, the author balanced the horror of Odeta’ s imprisonment and slavery, with the more mundane and relatable troubles experienced by Kate. The way she brought them together left the reader with a feeling of hope. The message that I took away from this book is the importance of community. I thoroughly recommend this book and I really look forward to reading more of Helen Matthews’ writing in the future.