‘An important novel at an important time’ – Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew

kokraKind of Kin deals with the consequences of the tightening of immigration laws in the state of Oklahoma and the decision to make it a felony to harbour illegal aliens. When Bob Brown is caught doing just that, a chain of events is set into motion which sees the unravelling of a family, the disappearance of a child, a town split down the centre, and a society torn in two. At the centre of this is Aunt Sweet, an aunty and a mother who struggles to hold her family together and keep people safe. Sweet starts out with quite conservative views on immigration, and particularly Mexicans. It is the slow but sure change in her ideals and views that string this novel together and paint the picture that the author wishes us to see.

This novel has reared its head at a very pertinent time. Not only in America, but also here, in Britain. Recent events have given some ‘political’ parties an excuse to question our immigration laws more fervently than ever before. At the heart of Askew’s novel is the discussion of kin. Just who are our kin? And just how much of a hand should we lend to those who are in need but do not hail from our shores? Thankfully, the answer to the questions seems to be: everyone is our kin, and we should lend every hand we possibly can. But Askew manages those questions much more subtly than that. By presenting us with the voices of characters on either side of the track, Askew oversees a detailed consideration of one of the biggest quandaries in society today. And she comes up with some pretty palatable answers, too.

Perhaps most impressively of all, Askew does all this in a novel that is tense, funny, human, and heartbreaking. Despite a slight lull around the midway point, the story is very gripping. Askew does a very good job of choosing the stories that pulse throughout, presiding over the backdrop of political tension. When young Dustin, Sweet’s nephew, goes missing, you care so deeply about what has happened to him that the political messages seep into your brain rather than feeling forced. When you realise the truth about Sweet’s husband, you share her outrage on a familial level, but that outrage must also be shared on a political one. The ways in which Askew evolves Sweet from a typical prejudiced member of her hometown into somebody who will stand up to the police for the freedom of one single Mexican are masterful and a joy to behold.

Any Cop? Askew has written an important novel at an important time and she’s done it without any of the annoying preachy tones of some such works. Definitely worth a read.

Fran Slater


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