Nicole Melanson ~
You know that feeling you get the first time you travel on your own? It needn’t be an exotic overseas trip. Even a simple bus journey that takes you to a part of town you’ve never seen before can do a wonderful job of getting you outside your world and into another. It’s the sense of discovery that matters. And that’s exactly how I felt reading Magdalena McGuire’s Home is Nearby, a book equal parts nostalgic and revelatory.
We begin in the 80s with country-girl Ania moving to university to undertake studies in sculpture. Ania’s life in Wrocław quickly extends to include Dominik, a politically impassioned writer, along with a host of other artists whose lives are turned upside-down when their authoritarian communist government declares martial law. The rest of the novel sees Ania and her friends struggling to define themselves as students, artists, lovers, children, and above all else, as citizens in a country warring against personal freedom.
There’s been much debate around the introduction of a New Adult category in bookselling. I don’t know whether it’s helping readers find new titles or if it’s destined to be another failed marketing strategy, but I will say that Home is Nearby seems like a great fit for the NA umbrella. In essence, this is a coming-of-age story about the early stages of adulthood. But what distinguishes these characters from teenagers isn’t just language or drug use or whatever else merits a higher classification; it’s the stakes involved in decision-making. These new adults are still finding themselves, but the consequences of making the wrong choice are more significant now. We’re talking expulsion, career failure and ensuing destitution, the breakdown of relationships, the threat of imprisonment… Even death.
It’s also interesting to watch these characters mature in judgment. They go from evaluating others based on appearances, interests, talents etc. and start looking at qualities like loyalty, courage, and integrity. To me, this is the stage where they become adults—when they realize that their friends and family might be beholden to a different set of personal values, and then have to decide where those values sit in relation to their own. This strengthens some relationships in the book, whilst weakening others, creating a real sense of dynamism and growth.
I very rarely feel that there’s something for everyone in a book, but Home is Nearby has so much going on, I can see how it would suit a wide variety of readers. There are history lessons here but they’re presented in a way that drives rather than distracts from the narrative. The art world is explored to such an extent that it adds depth to individual characters, defining them by their own artistic expression. And the Polish setting—and later, Australian—is richly described, providing the heady sense of wonder and excitement that comes from exploring another culture.
I wholly recommend this book to history buffs, travellers, art-lovers, and anyone questioning the distinction between romantic clichés and genuine compatibility.
Home is Nearby is available from Waterstones, Foyles Bookshop, and all other quality bookstores in the UK.