This Is Where I Am by Karen Campbell
Karen Campbell was born in Paisley and brought up in Glasgow, Scotland. Both her mother and father worked in Strathclyde Police Force and following a degree at Glasgow University, Karen also joined the police, where she met her husband. Karen studied for the Creative Writing Master’s Degree at Glasgow University. She is a vegetarian and lives in Galloway with her husband and two daughters. Karen Campbell has been best known, until now, as an accomplished proponent of Tartan Noir. She wrote a series of 4 well-received police crime novels featuring her main protagonist DCI Anna Cameron. I very much enjoyed those books. So, when This Is Where I Am was book of the month in my book group, I was thrilled.
However, this novel is a complete departure in style and subject matter for Karen Campbell. This Is Where I Am is a book of two voices. It tells the story of Abdi, a Somali asylum-seeker newly arrived in Glasgow with his young daughter, and of recently widowed Deborah, who has been assigned as mentor to help them settle in. I thought the situation of the recently bereaved woman mentoring the recently arrived refugee from Somalia worked well.
This book was a beautifully crafted story, which was carefully to show empathy for refugees coming to live in the UK. It was written with both sensitivity and balance. The story weaves in and out from the present and the past, delving in the issues that lead to Abdi’s travel to Glasgow with his young daughter, Rebecca but sometimes the story left me feeling flat, maybe helpless, when I felt I should have been more angry. The parallels between their fights with authority and their own individual grief also worked.
The differences in the attitudes of the Scottish people ranging from aggressive and bigoted to friendly and kind was very realistic. However, I must admit, that I did not see the end coming. I found it quite unbelievable. It was too neat for such chaotic lives. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed This Is Where I Am and am not surprised that the novel was selected as the BBC Radio Four Book at Bedtime.