In The Road to Wanting we meet Na Ga, a Burmese girl who is currently staying in a hotel in Wanting after she has traveled across China and Thailand, looking for a better life, as some might say, but really: running from one cruel situation to the other. In this hotel, on her way back home, she looks back on her life and whether she really wants to go home to a country that has changed so much since she left it as a young girl.
I feel very conflicted about this book. Some bloggers have remarked on the lack of feeling in Na Ga, while she goes through all these cruel things. But Law-Yone has said in interviews that this is exactly what she wanted to address: not every culture reacts to tragedy in the same manner. And for me, this is not where my failure to like this book, as much as other bloggers do, comes from. Instead, from the very start I had trouble connecting with the story in any way and I think, for me, it might be the style and language used in the book.
In the first pages, you find Na Ga tearing up cloth and tying it together. To escape? Or to hang herself? You see, those were questions you were supposed to ask. But I never got around to asking them, until the answer was made clear pages later. I found it hard to follow the description of the cloth, to feel the need to try to understand, and it was only when the purpose was revealed that I felt I should have been asking questions. Instead, all I felt was confusion. A few pages later, the harsher language starts. I don’t know why, but as soon as the word “cunt” is used in a book, I start to feel it as such a disturbance to the flow of a sentence. And that word was used quite a lot. Understandable, maybe, in the case of Na Ga. But yet, it did not sit well with me. There was just always something there, while reading this book, that kept me at a distance from really feeling anything for Na Ga. Yes, what she goes through is horrific, but I never felt I really cared. Only once finishing the book, and giving the circumstances some thought, separately from the story and the girl, did I feel: oh yes, this is an extremely important issue to write about.
So yes, this book tackles some very important issues. Human trafficking being one of them. It also focuses on an area, Burma, that many of us know next to nothing about, and it made me wish I could find more books about this country and its people. Unfortunately for me, the book didn’t do much. But for many, it did. Look, for example, at Verity’s post on it. For her, The Road To Wanting was one of her favourites out of this year’s Orange Prize long list.