The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby

For most of us, the refugee crisis is one that’s easy to ignore, or at least overlook. Unless we’re confronted by TV reports of a developing crisis because a border has closed, or shocked by images of one particular tragedy amongst the thousands, we get on with our daily lives largely untroubled with what is happening `over there’.
Based on a story that journalist Emma Jane Kirby worked on (and won an award for), The Optician of Lampedusa tells the story of a Mediterranean islander who, despite seeing refugees almost daily in his village, thought that what happened to them had little to do with them.
Then he was confronted by the reality of what they had been through in the most direct way possible.
During a family boat trip he came across the wreck of a migrant boat, surrounded by bodies. In a matter of moments he found himself transformed from day tripper to life saver.
Hopefully it’s what any of us would do if we found ourselves face to face with a human tragedy and could do something to help. But what would you do if there were more people needing your help than you could physically reach out to? What if, pulling people to safety could put your life at risk? What if there were more people than you could save?
These are questions that most of us will never have to answer. However, given the random nature of life, any of us could have moments to decide how far we would go to save a complete stranger.
Emma Jane Kirby’s fictionalised account of a real event is a thought-provoking and emotional read. As a reader you are in no doubt right from the start where the narrative is heading, her prose leads you in gently. Like a smiling welcome and gentle handshake before a testing interview, which you know will be followed by some searching questions.
The news media is always moving on, looking for the next story. But some stories don’t go away, and the Optician of Lampedusa is one that will stay with you for a very long time.


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