6 Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to Munjed Al Muderis
Welcome to 6 Degrees of Separation.
Six degrees of separation is the idea that we are only six connections away from an introduction to anyone else in the world. The term ‘six degrees of separation’ was originally inspired by Hungarian writer and poet Frigyes Karinthy, who coined the phrase in his 1929 short story ‘Chains‘. It later became the title of a play and subsequent film based on the same idea.
Now, there is also a bookish version of 6 Degrees, currently hosted by Kate from booksaremyfavouriteandbest. Kate provides a starting title, and we link it to six other books in any random way our mind chooses to make connections. Anyone can join in, so play along.
This month, we’re starting with the 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.
Shuggie Bain is about a young boy who spends his 1980s childhood in public housing in Scotland. After his siblings leave home, Hugh (or Shuggie as he is known) is left to care for her. The novel explores notions of addiction, class and poverty.
Like Shuggie, the protagonists of Tender by Eve Ainsworth also become carers at a young age. Marty’s mum suffers depression, and Daisy’s brother has muscular dystrophy. Marty and Daisy meet at a Young Carer’s group, where they discover support from others who understand their experiences.
In Claire Zorn’s novel The Protected, the main character, Hannah, also needs support after the death of her sister in a car crash, although she finds it through the school counsellor and a new friend rather than an organised group.
The protagonist of The Shark Caller by Dianne Wolfer has also lost a sibling in an accident; however, their cultural backgrounds and ways of dealing with grief are expressed in differently.
One of The Shark Caller’s concerns is related to the environment, as is Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman. Dry asks the question: what if we ran out of water?
Dry would be considered Dystopian fiction, as is The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn. While Dry asks what would happen if we ran out of water, The Sky So Heavy imagines a world where there has been a nuclear accident. Interestingly, both stories involve parents who disappear, leaving the teenage protagonists to care for younger brothers.
Although The Sky So Heavy is one of survival in an imagined future, Claire Zorn says that one of her influences came from Australia’s contemporary debate about the treatment of asylum seekers, which she explores through having Fin and his brother forced to flee their home in order to survive.
Someone who has firsthand experience about having to leave home is Munjed Al Muderis, who arrived in Australia on a leaky boat and spent time in immigration detention before finally being granted asylum. Now a renowned orthopedic surgeon, he has not only published his own memoirs, but a biography for younger readers, Munjed Al Mulderis: From Refuge to Surgeon Inventor has recently been written by Dianne Wolfer.
This month, I travelled from working class Scotland in the 1980s to the present day and then into a Dystopian Future. After stories dealing with a number of dark themes, I ended on a note of hope with the story of a man who continues to make a valuable contribution to the world around him.
Over to You
Where will 6 degrees of separation lead you?