In this post I want to talk about the refugee crisis and the stories of people running from war, extreme poverty and the madness accompanying the two.
The first book I want to mention is The Journey by Francesca Sanna. This was interesting to me because children’s books aren’t usually about such serious topics and I feel it’s important that children are educated in the right way. That being said, this book does remarkably well. Sanna writes clearly and with a great deal of emotion in what, in reality, only amounts to just a few lines. The book is about a Journey, told from the point of view of a child, who has only partial, yet insightful knowledge of what is going on. This child’s mother is taking her family away from their country in the hopes of finding somewhere safe. The story is told softly. It is not horrific, nor terribly sad, unlike other war time novels for children (need I mention the boy in striped pyjamas? I was in a wreck for days after reading that) and really suits the younger audience. Beautiful artwork completes it and this picture book stand a little apart from the rest in my eyes.
The Optician of Lampedusa is a heart wrenching novel. It starts at the very crux of the refugee crisis. The prologue is a mess of hands reaching out from the sea where hundreds upon hundreds of migrants are drowning just off the coast of the little Italian island of Lampedusa. From there the book backtracks a bit, to some of the little decisions of the Optician, our protagonist. Some of these little decisions, such as the decision to go on a boat trip rather than go to the local bar, were what saved 40 odd migrants who were dumped into the water when their less than seaworthy boat began to sink. The story is written from the point of view of the optician, and the author is a BBC radio 4 journalist who went to interview him and documents his true story, as well as the way he and his family and friends dealt with their greif at the aftermath of the event. Despite saving as many lives as their small recreational boat could take, the Optician is plagued by the idea that he has somehow been immoral and played God, perhaps subconsciously picking those he wanted to save. A really interesting book and one that stays with you for a long time after reading. It’s got a real gut wrenching beginning but as you read further the tone becomes more and more uplifting.
The New Odyssey is partly a documentation of the progression of the migrant crisis, and part the odyssey of one Hasham Al-Souki as he leaves his family to make the journey from Syria to Sweden, where he can apply as a refugee to bring his family over by legal means. It’s a terrifying look at the scale of the problems in other countries, such as the how the war in Syria has resulted in racism against the Syrians in other countries, who now believe them to be jihadists. This makes them unable to settle in other, more peaceable countries in the middle east. There is also the astounding number of Syrians who have their papers and passports stolen so that other migrants can claim refugee status. And what about the Eritreans? Classed as “economic migrants” Kingsley makes the excellent point that they’ve only been branded as such because they are refugees from poverty and the cage of their society, unable to progress or travel legally. The fear and upheaval these people go through to get away from their situations is astounding and this is truly the book to read if you want to really understand the scale of what is happening and those all elusive reasons why. Patrick Kingsley wrote about the refugee crisis for the Guardian and has interviewed everyone for this book, from people smugglers to the smugglees themselves. Very informative and very good.
Part 2 coming soon…