MSU picks book to comfort incoming class

Even with a smartphone in hand, incoming freshmen will soon learn that getting lost on the Michigan State University campus is an easy feat.

“Being lost is something we can all understand,” said Janet Lillie.

Lillie is the MSU assistant vice president for community relations as well as a member of the partnership between the City of East Lansing and the university, “One Book, One Community.” The OBOC program encourages both incoming students and residents of the city to read the same book.

She empathized with incoming students who might be unsure of the campus layout, conceding that “all of us have been lost at one time or another.”

That’s why this year, the chosen book is “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. The book also inspired a film called “Lion.” It is Brierley’s memoir of getting lost as a young child in India and living a short Dickensian existence in Kolkata before being adopted by a couple in Tasmania. As an adult, he then uses the cloudy memories of his birth city combined with Google Earth to find his birth mother and family. Although still living in Australia, Brierley has visited his Indian family a dozen times and has built his mother a home.

This year’s incoming freshmen were encouraged to read the book over the summer so that when they arrive, they will have something to talk about with other freshmen. It seems a pretty straightforward tale, but both the book and the movie tell a much more nuanced story of young Saroo and his relationship with his adoptive parents and brother — ideal for talking points.

“A Long Way Home’ is an exceptional story of being lost and about how, as a young man, Saroo builds a new life while trying to hold on to his own life in India.”

Metaphorically, Saroo’s story will resonate with the thousands of freshmen who might come to the realization that for the first time, they are a long way from home.

One advantage for this year’s selection is the book, first published in Australia in 2013, was quickly made into the movie “Lion” starring Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel in the roles of the child and adult Saroo respectively. There’s a chance that students might have already seen the film.

Lillie said the book and the movie “will help expand the set of questions students ask each other than ‘what’s your major?’” It won’t be the first time since other book selections have had accompanying movies, such as “Fahrenheit 451” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”

As in other years, the author will make several appearances where members of the community and students can ask questions.

A kickoff event will be Aug. 27 at the East Lansing Community Center, where Brierley will give a first-person account of his experiences. Then on Aug. 28, incoming freshmen will have the opportunity to meet and listen to Brierley at the Breslin Student Events Center on MSU’s campus. This has become a traditional MSU Welcome event.

“It is always inspirational to see 100 kids, standing in line with their dogeared pages to meet the author,” Lillie said.

Many years, as in year’s selection of “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, books selected for the One Book-One Community read program often are overlaid with social justice issues.

But this year’s selection is more introspective and inspirational.

Lillie said the selection process is often difficult in that a book must be exceptional and one that will be read by an 18-year-old as well as the community.

She also said a goal is to have the author available for on-campus events. One exception has been for the book “Frankenstein.” “Wouldn’t it have been amazing to see Mary Shelley,” Lillie asked with a smile.

In addition to the book-related events, the movie “Lion” will be shown several times for free, beginning Thursday.

“Lion” Thursday Aug. 10, 9 p.m., FREE, 280 Valley Court Park, East Lansing, (517) 319-6809, ow.ly/FSjC30egf8N

“Lion” Sunday Aug. 27 7 p.m. FREE East Lansing Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road East Lansing (517) 333-2580 Live stream available at: livestream.com/msualumni/ aLongWayHome

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