A Long Way Home Summary

Saroo Brierley

A Long Way Home

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A Long Way Home Summary

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Published in 2013, A Long Way Home is a memoir by Saroo Brierley that recounts the events of his childhood, when he was separated from his family and adopted by an Australian couple, and what happened after. The book inspired the 2016 film Lion, although the film deviates from the memoir in several ways.

Saroo lives with his impoverished family in India. His father left the family, and his mother works very hard to earn the tiny income they survive on. His brothers Guddu and Kallu go into the city to beg and scrounge, and they often walk along the train lines begging and searching for work. Saroo always wishes to join them but is told he is too small. One night he succeeds in convincing Guddu to take him along. At one of the train stations, Guddu tells Saroo to wait while he takes care of something, and Saroo falls asleep on a bench. He wakes up still alone, but he is cold, so he climbs on to an empty train and falls asleep.

When Saroo wakes up, the train is moving and crowded with people. Saroo panics and gets off in Calcutta. Uncertain of how to get home, Saroo attempts to board other trains heading in the opposite direction, but unknowingly keeps boarding local trains that return to the same station. Saroo begs for food and sleeps on the platform.

He eventually gives up on the trains and heads into the city. There, a man takes pity on him and brings Saroo back to his apartment. Saroo is happy to be fed and sheltered, but becomes alarmed when the man introduces him to a male friend. He escapes the apartment and is chased by the men.

Saroo’s mother begins searching for her sons; Guddu never returned either. The police eventually find Guddu’s body near the train tracks—he had been hit by a train in the darkness. She continues to search for Saroo.

An older boy notices Saroo and brings him to the police, who give him something to eat and attempt to contact his family. When they are unable to do so, Saroo is sent to the Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption (ISSA), which makes another attempt to find his family. Because Saroo is so young, he’s very little help. After some time, he’s declared a “Lost Child” and put up for adoption. Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley, and travels with them to Australia.

Saroo is astonished at the quality of life in Australia. His adopted parents love him very much, and he thrives in their care, quickly assimilating, learning English and forgetting Hindi, and embracing Australian culture. The Brierleys adopt a second Indian boy, Mantosh.

Saroo goes to college and pursues a hospitality degree. He wonders about his Indian origins. One day he realizes that modern technology can offer clues, and he uses Google searches and online maps to trace his childhood journey, using his memories to eventually identify the railway station where he fell asleep. Satellite images of a nearby town also conform to his memories, and Saroo realizes that he’s found his hometown.

Saroo contacts a local Facebook group from the town, and this further confirms his own memories. Armed with this confirmation, Saroo travels to India and makes his way to the town of Khandwa. Using a photograph of himself as a child, he is eventually led to his mother, Kamla, and an emotional reunion takes place. Saroo learns that his brother Guddu died the night he became lost, which explains why Guddu never returned to fetch him. He learns that he has been mispronouncing his own name his entire life—he is actually named Sheru. He also learns that because he and his brother vanished, Kamla was able to afford an education for his brother Kallu and his sister Shekila, who have become a factory manager and a teacher, respectively.

Saroo returns to India a second time to recreate his journey, taking the train from Khandwa to Calcutta. The trip triggers many traumatic memories, but also reminds Saroo of the many people who helped him. He meets with some of the people from the ISSA and is able to thank them personally for their assistance.

Saroo returns to Australia but remains in touch with his family. He makes plans to purchase a house for his mother, and makes another trip to India with Sue Brierley, which is filmed for the television show 60 Minutes.

The memoir concludes with a contemplation of fate. Saroo professes to have no religious beliefs, but he has come to regard fate as a legitimate force in the world and sees the unfortunate events of his childhood as the reason he is so fortunate in his current life.