Novel for adolescents

  1. -treating migration

    (So far not translated).

Published 2014 by Høst&Søn, publishers, part of Rosinante&Co.

Copenhagen, Denmark.

***** (5 out of 6 stars)

Review in “Berlingske Tidende”:

(May, 16th, Kari Sønsthagen. Transl. Martin Petersen.)

“… 17 years old Dawn’s associative narrator’s vocie in Martin Petersen’s “Exit Sugartown” sounds so much alive and appears very authentic. This youth-novel is raw and wildly engaging and, thanks to it’s way of being told, just as nerve-racking in the building-up of suspense as a thriller ...

She is ... ready to fight for a better life for herself and not least for Charlie, her little brother ... with promises of gold and succes in sight she chooses to flee “over the sea” together with her friend, Didi ...

Dawn is being cheated on and boundlessly humiliated, but she endures and keeps herself alive through her passion of life, self respect and care for Charlie ... She accepts a fatal deal to act as a decoy for a gang that performs residential robberies. One of the break-ins ends up in a killing, she escapes the gang, is found again, loses a finger and is threatened with what’s even worse if she doesn’t continue.

The research for this book was for a great part performed around “the golden port” of “Fortress Europe”; Malta and Lampedusa. But due to the fact that the names are covered, the story could take place anywhere.

The story of Dawn ... is at the same time horrendous, fascinating and life affirming.”

The world right outside ...

Imagine the planet Earth with its 7 billion inhabitants. Be a satelite and have a look down. You’ll see one world consisting of North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. And another one, located in South America, Africa and large parts of Asia. This other world is by far the most densely populated.

And by far the poorest.

That’s why an increasing number of people try to migrate to “our world”. Mexicans to the US, Africans to Europe, Chinese to Japan and the UK, the list is much longer, and we in “the rich countries” often feel scared of loosing our privileges and welfare. We might sympathize with migrants, we claim to “understand” them, but we don’t really want to let them in - in fear of loosing our “good life”. We don’t want our wealth and culture endangered, and so we build walls and control systems in order to protect us. Some call it “Fortress Europe”. That doesn’t stop the migrants from coming.

The novel Exit Sugartown tells the story of 17-year-old Dawn’s dramatic fight for survival and a decent life, and it offers the reader a look inside some of the people from “the poor world” who enter our countries to get a better life. Or simply to save their lives.

Where is all this taking place? She won’t tell us. The story is “told” by “Dawn” (which isn’t her real name) and out of fear for authorities and others, all names of characters and places are anonymized. And could therefore be anyone, anywhere.

The young migrants of today who set off on life threatening journeys, who throw themselves in the arms of traffickers and get tempted to enter prostitution or crime, have the same dreams of a good life as European teenagers: Friendship, love, having fun, education, nice stuff to eat, a beer on Saturdays, a job they like, and the prospect of a good family life.

But how does a human being react when the challenge from the outside, physical world is so different from what we are used to? The novel’s telling of the exodus from “Sugartown” by the girls Dawn and Didi, going out to the more wealthy “City” gives one answer to that.

Migrants? You can meet them down at the corner ...

Exit Sugartown is based on research in Malta and London and on studying journalist accounts from the UK, France and Italy. Almost every week insanely overcrowded boats loaded with migrants arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa near Tunisia. Every month some of these boats do not arrive ...

The real “Dawns” and “Didis”, though, you won’t find solely far south, you can meet them right down the corner: The dishwasher girl in the Chinese Take-away, the guy who was allowed to join the football training, sent here as he was by his parents, without passport, the au pair on the playground with the kids of some wealthy family, and, if you happen to be early at school one morning: The woman who does the cleaning.

It’s important to study and discuss migration in the school of today.

Read the novel and discuss how it describes the conditions and dreams of the characters, seach about migration in your home country and the rest of Europe, read non-fiction and newspapers, debate the issue with each other and do dare walking through the back-door of your China-joint and have a chat with the Dishwasher there.

Watch this short video by Maria Feck from Hamburg -

- and learn what a group of African migrants, now in Hamburg, think and say.

Teaching, meeting up, materials:

After finishing “Exit Sugartown” I have been on Lampedusa myself to see and hear how the situation is regarded from there, and as a research for a possible follow-up-novel for “Exit Sugartown”.

I do visit for example schools in order to tell about and show photos about migration in Europa and how this novel was made. This might inspire to debating and discussing.

If you happen to find supplementary sources, texts or movies, you are very welcome to email me links and ideas in order to upload them here..

Relevant reading:


In the newspapers:


3 very important books by journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai:


My youth novel “Lille fisk” (Little Fish”)

  1. -on the Morecambe tragedy. (So far not translated).

  2. -


Like a man on earth”, trailer english subtitles:

Like a man on earth”, full version: (Italian subtitles) Very impressive

“Behind this sea”, trailer, English subtitles.

“Lampedusa in Hamburg” - a short video by Maria Feck.


“Boats’ cemetery”; rescued and seized boats used by African migrants, Lampedusa, Dec. 2013. Photo: The author.

Cover: Alette Bertelsen