Review by Tabatha Wood
Focusing on two very different characters — Bengali refugee Nasimul Rahman and young New Zealander Donna, a shop assistant and volunteer for the Shore Patrol — ‘Where We Land’ is set in a time quite possibly not too far ahead of us. Jones describes a future where climate change has seen sea levels rise and cause destruction on a massive scale, including world-wide forced migration and population displacement. To avoid an influx of refugees who are fleeing their inhabitable lands and making the perilous journey across the oceans to Aotearoa, the New Zealand Navy torpedo any foreign boat seen approaching land.
However, not everyone is unsympathetic. An underground group of protesters, the Shepherds, are keen to help the refugees in whatever way they can. When Nasimul’s ship is destroyed not far from Manukau Harbour and he takes refuge in an abandoned house by the shore, it is a chance meeting with Donna which will ultimately decide his fate.
‘Where We Land’ was not quite what I expected. The nods to the impact of climate change were essential to the plot but not unnecessarily laboured. There was no long description of one huge catastrophic event, but instead Jones looks at the results of many, more subtle and interlinked calamities. This fictitious future could all too easily become reality, and the actions and choices made by the characters are completely, if not sometimes depressingly, believable.
Jones talks in depth about human resilience and the determination to survive. The ability to keep going even when all seems lost. He examines our humanity; how we respond to threats and challenges, but ultimately how we, as a global species, behave to one another. The tension is high, the characters relatable, and Jones deftly manoeuvres you into bearing witness to the unfolding plot. He places you squarely in both Nasimul and Donna’s shoes. What would you do if…? he asks.
In just sixty-three pages, Jones has managed to paint a brand new future hinged very firmly in our present. He offers a depiction of not what might happen, but what most certainly will, should the wider human race remain apathetic to climate emergency.
I very much enjoyed this story, and my only real criticism is I want to know so much more about Nasimul and Donna’s stories, so deeply did they affect me. I was immediately drawn in to the narrative and found the two distinct voices to be fully realised and nuanced. I suppose it helps that my own political leanings are in line with Jones’s, and as a consequence I found his story to be both satisfying as well as thought-provoking. Others, with opposing view-points might not be as thrilled with how the journey ends.
Jones notes in his Afterward that in the four years since his original publication, environmental issues have increased in urgency. I can only hope that if the future does indeed become how Jones depicts it, that we can hold on to our humanity and focus not on violence but on progress.
Tim Jones was awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. He has published one novel, two short story collections and four poetry collections, co-edited two poetry anthologies and writes a blog called Books in Trees. Born in Lincolnshire, England, Tim moved to Southland, New Zealand, as a two-year-old and lives now on a Wellington hill. He is a climate change activist.
‘Where We Land’ is published by The Cuba Press and can be purchased online here.