Book Review: The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

Reviewed by Huriyah Quadri

The Invisible Crowd is about illegal immigration and the way asylum seekers are viewed and treated in Britain. It’s centred around Yonas, a young man who has escaped from prison following a nightmarish life in Eritrea. Yonas was a journalist who was forced to act as a censor, his hatred of the role led to him publishing articles in secret, which resulted in him being captured and tortured. He was smuggled to Britain to seek asylum, which is where the story kicks off. Upon landing, Yonus finds being an asylum seeker in Britain is not as easy or pleasant as he expected. The story goes on to demonstrate the humiliating and soul-crushing struggle faced by those in Yonas’s position.

In keeping with his journalistic background, Yonas collects newspaper scraps and each chapter begins with a headline about people like Yonas. Wiles got the headlines from real newspaper articles and they are all referenced at the back of the book, as expected, the majority were from the Daily Mail and the Sun. The article headings were unsavoury and entirely contradictory to Yonas’s actual life. The juxtaposition was thoughtful and striking, it highlighted British ignorance when it comes to asylum seekers. This ignorance and insensitivity is further approached when the story takes us into a detention centre and we learn about the experiences asylum seekers have to endure in such places. The dehumanising approach taken in detention centres and the way such cases are dealt with is laid out clearly.

Wiles split the story between many different narrators and mixed up the tenses from time-to-time, offering variety and various perspectives. The technique created a sort of report style overall, which suited the subject of the story. However, it may not be to everyone’s tastes and I did grow tired of it at some points; there were too many voices pitching in.

The subject matter is serious and Wiles’s characters evoke an emotional response—whether it’s positive or negative. I was rooting for Yonas the entire time and was let down by the cliff-hanger ending. I would have liked to know what happened to him and would have also liked to have learnt more about his time in Eritrea before he was imprisoned and the kind of work he was forced to censor. There was something lacking in the story due to the limited amount of information shared with us about Yonas’s past.

The Invisible Crowd offers excellent representation (race, religion and LGBT+), but I found Wiles’s use of the slur ‘Paki’ troubling and thought it was unnecessary; the story was hard-hitting enough without the problematic language.

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