Sodden Downstream by Brannavan Gnanalingam
This is the third of the Ockham shortlisted fiction titles I have read, and the first which has engaged and moved me.
I believe this is the first time in his 5 published novels that Gnanalingam has featured a character from the country of his birth, Sri Lanka. Perhaps he needed the distance and space to do this. Sita is a Tamil refugee whose family has been devasted by the conflict. She lives in the Hutt Valley and works as a contact cleaner in Wellington - the family's only income. She only gets paid when she works, and is threatened with losing the job if she can't. The story unfolds over one night. Sita is called into night work, as a huge storm hits and a flood halts all transport into the City. Sita sets off anyway, making slow progress, relying on the kindness of strangers - always people who are also poor and struggling against society. The book provides social commentary, as well as revealing the horror of Sita's history in Sri Lanka - but it is not confrontational. Gnanalingam maintains a light touch in what really is a beautiful small novel.