The Return Home by Justin Huggler
Short Books, 2017 £8.99
Reviewed by Raymond Whitaker
The title of the second novel by Justin Huggler, an Asian Affairs contributor, could refer to the writer as much as to the characters in his book.
Huggler’s first work of fiction, The Burden of the Desert, was set mainly in Iraq, based on his experiences as a journalist there. Though sharply observational, the plot followed the conventions of a thriller. The Return Home is overshadowed by the wars in Afghanistan, another country from which the writer reported, but its setting is Jersey in the Channel Islands, where Huggler grew up.
The narrator is Ben, an eight-year-old schoolboy, whose uncle Jack, a journalist, comes to the island to recover after losing a leg while covering the mujahedin struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The family tensions caused by his arrival, and the secrets that emerge, are dealt with in masterly fashion.
Having roamed the globe in the course of his profession, the author now recognises the peculiarities of his island birthplace, the only part of the United Kingdom occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. He cleverly weaves together the lingering traumas of that conflict and the more immediate suffering inflicted on Jack and his comrades in Afghanistan.
The Return Home is not only exciting, but deeply human. We witness Justin Huggler maturing as a writer, drawing in adulthood on his experiences as a child, and look forward to his future work.