Arts Feature: The Jungle Books

No one can deny the healing power of books. Stories, mere words on the page, can transport the reader into another world; they give the reader a chance to live another life than their own, even if only for a few absorbing moments. And they’re safe: the stories are familiar and reassuring, and the narrative never changes. The perfect escapist antidote. And nowhere is the comforting potential of books more potent, or more important, than in crisis situations.

Nowhere is this illustrated better than by the recent creation of a makeshift library in the migrant camp at Calais. An enterprise, started by British teacher Mary Jones, aims to provide practical help that enables the migrants to begin to rebuild their lives.

The library, named Jungle Books, currently has around 200 titles and is keen to expand, calling for books in all languages and genres. Jones’ most pressing aim is to provide books for the migrants in their own languages. Dictionaries and books in native languages are continually in high demand; other titles include popular English-language novels such as Gone Girl.

This initiative is a fundamental step in humanising the migrants in the camp, moving away from the traditional demonisation of migrants in the media and treating them exactly as they are – people. People – migrants or otherwise – cannot exist in a state of transit, in a life devoid of interest or escapism or goals, and Jungle Books is integral in restoring this universal right to people whose lives have been devastated in their home countries.

Dictionaries for the migrants to learn English, or novels for them to escape into: either way, their ability to read literature of any kind is essential in recognising the fact that they are, in fact, individuals with thoughts and feelings of their own and, as such, deserve to binge on as many books as they want. Just like any of us.

[Rachel Walker]

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