58 pages 1 hour read

Saroo Brierley

A Long Way Home

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


A Long Way Home is a 2013 memoir by Saroo Brierley, an Indian-born author who was accidentally separated from his biological family at the age of five and adopted by an Australian couple. The memoir traces Saroo’s remarkable journey from India to Australia and back again 25 years later. The book inspired the 2016 film Lion and became a New York Times Best Seller after the film’s release. This guide refers to the 2015 edition published by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


A Long Way Home includes a prologue, 13 chapters, and an epilogue. The prologue describes the nerve-wracking moments before Saroo reunites with his birth mother after more than two decades. Finding his childhood home empty, Saroo fears his mother died or moved to a distant place until a stranger happens by and takes him to her.

Chapter 1 describes Saroo’s early years in the home of his adoptive parents, Sue and John Brierley. Saroo experiences culture shock when he first arrives in Hobart, the capital of the Australian island-state of Tasmania. Coming from abject poverty, Saroo must adjust to having his own room, being able to eat his fill, and going to school. His parents ease his transition, while showering him with love and affection. Saroo quickly adapts to life in Australia, but he often dreams of India and his biological family. A year after arriving in Hobart, he tells Sue he is from a place called ‘Ginestlay’ and that he got lost after taking a train at ‘Berampur’ Station.

The narrative then looks back at Saroo’s life in India. Saroo lives in a one-room house in a suburb of Khandwa called Ganesh Talai, which he shares with his Hindu mother, Kamla, his two older brothers, Guddu and Kallu, and his infant sister, Shekila. Saroo’s Muslim father abandoned the family, forcing Kamla to take odd jobs and the children to scrounge and steal. One night, five-year-old Saroo accompanies Guddu to Burhanpur Station to beg for food and money. Guddu tells him to wait while he takes care of something. Saroo falls asleep, wakes up cold, and climbs on to an empty train. The sun has risen, and the train is moving when Saroo wakes up hours later. He gets off in Kolkata and asks strangers for help finding ‘Ginestlay’ and ‘Berampur,’ but most people ignore him. He spends the following weeks begging and stealing on the dangerous streets of Kolkata. Saroo’s life takes an unexpected turn when a teenaged boy turns him over to the police. Saroo is placed in a juvenile detention center, where he is bullied and beaten. He then moves to an orphanage. A few months later, Saroo learns that the search for his birth mother failed and that an Australian couple wants to adopt him. With no hope of finding his family, Saroo consents to the adoption and flies to Australia.

Sue and John keep Saroo connected to his Indian roots through organizations that cater to Hobart’s thriving Indian community. When Saroo is 10 years old, his parents adopt a second child from India, a boy named Mantosh. Unlike Saroo, Mantosh struggles to fit in with his peers, experiences racism, and has problems adapting to Australian culture. Saroo gains independence as his parents focus on helping Mantosh. Like Sue, Saroo believes adoption creates authentic families with bonds that are as strong as biological families. Despite these progressive views, and his love for Sue and John, Saroo decides to search for his Indian family while pursuing a hospitality degree in Canberra. He searches for places that sound like ‘Berampur’ and ‘Ginestlay’ using Google Earth, to no avail. He resumes his search after he returns to Hobart. Five years after downloading Google Earth, Saroo finally locates his hometown of Ganesh Talai. A few months later, he boards a plane to India.

Saroo lands in India and experiences culture shock for the second time in his life. Armed with a photograph of himself as a child, he makes his way to his old house in Ganesh Talai, which is now abandoned. A stranger takes him to his mother’s new house, where he is reunited with Kamla, Kallu, and Shekila. Through a translator, Saroo learns that Guddu died the night he went missing. He also realizes that he has been mispronouncing his own name his entire life. Saroo was christened Sheru, which means ‘lion’ in Hindi. Saroo returns to India a second time and recreates his journey from Khandwa to Kolkata. The trip triggers many traumatic memories, but also reminds Saroo of the many people who helped him after he got lost. He meets with some of these people and thanks them for their assistance. Saroo returns to India a third time to introduce his two mothers, a moment captured for posterity by 60 Minutes Australia.

The memoir concludes with a contemplation of fate. Saroo professes to have no religious beliefs, but he has come to regard fate as a legitimate force in the world and sees the unfortunate events of his childhood as the reason he is so fortunate as an adult.