The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

I have read a lot about this book and probably because of it I actually broke my book buying ban (I got two other books, but this one was I think the main reason). I read it the first chance I got and it was a tremendous experience, especially for the size of the book, at just over a hundred pages it really throws a punch.

The book tells a real story of an optician from Lampedusa, who one day went for a calm cruise with his friends only to end up saving 47 people from a capsized migrants boat. It is a deeply subjective account, starts slowly describing the few days before the cruise to give us insight into the optician’s personality. The rescue happens towards the middle of the book and it’s a very powerful narrative, very carnal, shattering. What I didn’t expect is the last part of the book, the aftermath, how deeply it affected the rescuers, how it traumatized them.

The optician and his friends all have nightmares, all wanted to save more people, felt they should save more people. The fact they helped brings them no peace, no satisfaction, only the constant feeling that they have not done enough. Their lives pale and seem insignificant when they become aware of the tragedies that take place in the Mediterranean all the time. The optician tells how he heard in the news about boats capsizing before the rescue and how he casually dismissed it, going on about his daily life. After what happened this is no longer possible to him. He describes the feeling of pulling another person out of the water, how deep and animalistic it is, how it touches the subconscious.

What I really liked about this book, is that there is no heroes here, in the aftermath of a faraway conflict everyone gets damaged, the migrants and the rescuers, no one can feel good about themselves, no one is special and yet everyone is because we are all people. It is a deeply human book about how experiencing such trauma and tragedy can upturn ones life and how long is the way back to normality. How only first hand experience brings the message home, because it cannot be dismissed when it is experienced with all your senses, there is no denying anymore that those migrants that are dying on sea are PEOPLE! It is a book about people, about overcoming borders, about how on the deepest level we really are all the same, no matter how many labels we put on different groups.

Emma Jane Kirby manages to stay a transparent storyteller, she does not interfere with the tale, just passes it on to us. This book deeply moved me and provided a needed emotional counterpart to Migrants, migrations by Helene Thiollet, which I read earlier.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

4 thoughts on “The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

  1. Oh my goodness, this sounds amazing. Hard to read, but amazing. It’s so hard to conceive of the scope of the refugee crisis – so many millions and yet each one is a singular life precious to someone. Great review – I can tell how much this meant to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Surprisingly it is not a hard read, a very moving one for sure, but very well written, it takes you to Lampedusa, makes you fell the place first and only then brings on the tragedy. All the more shockingly. It just brings the issue right to your door…I better stop now, looks like I can talk and talk about this book 😉


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