Along with climate change and the rise of populist nationalism, immigration is one of several subjects that have dominated the news in the first two decades of the 21st century. It’s no surprise, then, that an accomplished novelist like Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga would turn his attention to this challenging topic. Amnesty, the story of a brutal crime and its reverberation in the life of a self-described illegal immigrant in Sydney, Australia, is the tension-inducing, morally complex result of that effort.
Four years after dropping out of a fraudulent college and overstaying his student visa in Sydney, Dhananjaya “Danny” Rajaratnam, originally from Sri Lanka, lives in a storeroom above a grocery store, performs occasional odd jobs and also runs a small home-cleaning business. When one of his clients, a married woman, is found stabbed to death, Danny quickly realizes that her lover, a man named Prakash—an immigrant like Danny, but who obtained Australian citizenship—is likely the killer.
Over the course of a single day, in a series of text messages and cellphone conversations, Prakash and Danny engage in a cat-and-mouse game over whether Danny will share with the police the knowledge he possesses that could implicate Prakash in the crime. In an effort to deter Danny, Prakash threatens to expose the young man’s illegal status. Danny’s situation is complicated by the fact that he’s a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. Before fleeing the country, he faced detention and torture and knows he risks that fate if he returns.
Though Adiga’s sympathies clearly lie with Danny, he’s careful not to telegraph the result of this dramatic confrontation. As Danny roams the streets of Sydney and wrestles with his conscience, we see glimpses of the anxiety of life in an “archipelago of illegals, each isolated from the other and kept weak, and fearful, by this isolation.” Add to that troubling reality the weight of an ethical crisis of life-changing dimensions, and the result is a work of deeply consequential fiction.