Title: The Other Half of Augusta Hope
Author: Joanna Glen
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.
At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.
And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.
When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?
The Other Half of Augusta Hope took me by complete surprise – I hadn’t expected such a powerful absorbing read. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this book slowly tightened its grip on me, so although it started a little slow for me, by the time I’d got past the first third I didn’t want to put it down.
I love Augusta – she’s a likable, interesting character who knows her own mind, and who has an interesting outlook on life. Her twin sister is in many ways very different to her, but – being twins – they have a unique connection, and the book follows their life from birth to adulthood. I always enjoy books that take the reader right through someone’s life – there’s something about being there (as a reader) when they’re born and seeing them grow up through the pages of a book that makes me really connect and identify with a character.
There’s two sides to this story, with the storyline that starts in Burundi and follows a boy called Parfait. I won’t give too much away, but his experience and attempts to try and created a better life for himself and his family are very pertinent to today’s devastating refugee crisis. Parfait and Augusta also have – unknowingly – a connection; Augusta developed a real interest in Parfait’s home country of Burundi as a child and there follows a series of similarities and stark contrasts – often we’ll see one chapter end on a subject or metaphor that is then continued with the other character, and we also see the many, many ways that their lives are so different. I loved this sense of parallel worlds, which I was constantly hoping would converge thanks to a stroke of luck… or fate!
My favourite storyline of the two is Augusta’s because she’s the same age as me and I recognised many parts of my own youth in her, going off to university at the same time and growing up in a world rocked by some of the same events (I remember the Soham murders so vividly, for one example). I felt such a sense of identity with Augusta in some ways, and in others she was very different to me. It made for such interesting reading.
It’s hard for me to define exactly what this book is ‘about’, because it’s about so many things in so many ways – family, loss, belonging, love (in many forms), and much more. Together it takes this book from a light-hearted read (which I assumed, incorrectly, that it might be) to a thought-provoking, beautifully written debut novel which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Many thanks to HarperCollins UK for providing a copy of this novel, on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.