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Refugee Week: Celebrating Contributions and Resilience

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Articles and Reports, News

Refugee Week Recommended Reading List

Refugee Week is the world’s largest arts & culture festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary and this year it is celebrated from the 19th to 25th of June.  The theme of Refugee Week 2023 is compassion. Organisers of the event are encouraging people to express their compassion, and reflect on what the concept means to them.

We may all have met or come across refugees but few if any fully understand the living experience of a person fleeing their homeland in search of safety and peace.

We have put a list of books with refugee characters that may give you an insight into the struggles they endure in seeking a sanctuary.

In recent years, books about people seeking refuge have provided a way of educating the public about the truth behind the refugee experience.

  • The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

Thankful for all the help she received from strangers as a refugee, Dina recognises that times have changed and that life is more challenging for refugees today. Despite this, Dina remains defiant that refugees should not live their lives constantly having to say ‘thank you’.

With a title that is meant to shock, Dina tells her story as a child refugee, her quest for acceptance in a new country and the refugee perspective that remains with her today.

  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed

Separated from their mother, Omar and Hassan are two brothers from Somalia growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp. Life is tough, but they are helped by Fatuma, a kind woman who acts as a foster mother to the siblings.

Illustrated like a comic book, this is a true story based on the experiences of the co-author of the book, Omar Mohamed, founder of Refugee Strong – a charity committed to the education of young people in refugee camps.

  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Nuri’s happiness is shattered when the Syrian war breaks out. Along with his blind wife, Afra, he sets out on a journey to reach England.

As the book moves backwards and forwards in time, hinging on a single word, chapter by chapter, the perilous journey they undertake and the reasons behind their fractured marriage are gradually revealed.

  • The Boat People by Sharon Bala

When Mahindan arrives with his son in Vancouver, after fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war, he and the hundreds of other refugees on the same boat appear to have left their troubles behind. But when suspicion mounts that the ‘boat people’ are not as harmless as they appear, but that among them are terrorists, it is not long before the refugees are seen as a threat to their new home. Thrown into detention, Mahindan must await his and his son’s fate.

  • No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib

Boston, 2017: When Hadi returns to his heavily pregnant partner Sama after a trip to Jordan to bury his father, he is stopped at border control – a hostile new immigration law has just been enacted – while she awaits him on the other side.

Worlds apart, suspended between hope and disillusion as hours become days become weeks, Sama and Hadi yearn for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed up together. But does that life exist any more, or was it only an illusion?

  • As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh

Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She was even supposed to be meeting a boy to talk about marriage. Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors. She knows that she should be thinking about leaving, but who will help the people of her beloved country if she doesn’t? With her heart so conflicted, her mind has conjured a vision to spur her to action. His name is Khawf, and he haunts her nights with hallucinations of everything she has lost.But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, when she crosses paths with Kenan, the boy she was supposed to meet on that fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all. Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are–not a war, but a revolution–and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.

  • The Last Refuge: A True Story of War, Survival and Life Under Siege in Srebrenica by Hasan Nuhanovi?

In 1992 the growing threat of Serb nationalism in Bosnia forced Hasan Nuhanovic and his family to flee their home for the safety of Bosnia’s mountainous countryside. High up in the woods along the Drina River, Hasan and thousands of Bosniak refugees faced bitter nights, deprivation and death, while Serb soldiers covered their retreat with sniper fire and artillery shelling. After many months on the move, the Bosniaks battled their way to the town of Srebrenica, their last refuge, under the charge of a small UN force. When the Bosnian-Serb army laid siege to the town, Hasan’s life once more became a daily struggle for survival, battling starvation, sniping and shelling.

  • In My Mother’s Footsteps: A Palestinian Refugee Returns Home by Mona Hajjar Halaby

1948, Jerusalem. Zakia is forced to flee the only home she’s ever known as war rips through the leafy streets and the bustling spice-filled souqs. Taking just one suitcase, Zakia thinks she’ll be able to return soon. But within weeks, she realises she won’t be allowed back to her beloved homeland.

2007, California. Mona grew up with her mother Zakia’s memories of Palestine, imagining the muezzin’s call for prayer and the medley of church bells her mother so vividly described to her. So, when Mona gets the opportunity to teach conflict resolution in Ramallah, she also embarks on a personal pilgrimage to find her mother’s home in militarised and occupied Jerusalem.

With cherished letters from her mother who writes to Mona regularly, sharing her story of Jerusalem, Mona dreams of one day being guided by her through the winding cobblestone alleys of the Old City. Yet it is Mona who instead holds her mother’s hand as they finally visit Jerusalem together. After fifty-nine years of exile, her mother is returning to the place she once called home – but can a lifetime of loss ever be healed?

  • Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

After the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Minh, and Thanh journey to Hong Kong with the promise that their parents and younger siblings will soon follow. But when tragedy strikes, the three children are left orphaned, and sixteen-year-old Anh becomes the caretaker for her two younger brothers overnight.

In the years that follow, Anh and her brothers immigrate to the UK, living first in overcrowded camps and resettlement centres and then, later, in a modernising London plagued by social inequality. Anh works in a factory to pay the bills. Minh loiters about with fellow high school dropouts. Thanh, the youngest, plays soccer with his friends after class. As they mature, each sibling reckons with survivor’s guilt, unmoored by their parents’ absence. And with every choice, their paths diverge further, until it’s unclear if love alone can keep them together.

  • What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another overfilled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives back in their homelands. But miraculously, someone has survived the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who is soon rescued by Vänna. Vänna is a teenage girl, who, despite being native to the island, experiences her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though Vänna and Amir are complete strangers, though they don’t speak a common language, Vänna is determined to do whatever it takes to save the boy.

In alternating chapters, we learn about Amir’s life and how he came to be on the boat, and we follow him and the girl as they make their way toward safety. What Strange Paradise is the story of two children finding their way through a hostile world. But it is also a story of empathy and indifference, of hope and despair—and about the way each of those things can blind us to reality.

  • Silence Is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar

A young woman sits in her apartment, watching the small daily dramas of her neighbours across the way. She is an outsider, a mute voyeur, safe behind her windows, and she sees it all—the fights, the happy and unhappy families. Journeying from her war-torn Syrian homeland to this unnamed British city has traumatised her into silence, and her only connection to the world is the column she writes for a magazine under the pseudonym “the Voiceless,” where she tries to explain the refugee experience without sensationalising it—or revealing anything about herself.

Gradually, though, the boundaries of her world expand. She ventures to the corner store, to a bookstore and a laundromat, and to a gathering at a nearby mosque. And it isn’t long before she finds herself involved in her neighbours’ lives. When an anti-Muslim hate crime rattles the neighbourhood, she has to make a choice: Will she remain a voiceless observer, or become an active participant in a community that, despite her best efforts, is quickly becoming her own ?

  • Shatila Stories by Samih Mahmoud, Omar Khaled Ahmad, Hiba Mareb, Safa Khaled Algharbawi, Nibal Alalo, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Safiya Badran

Peirene press commissioned nine refugees to tell their ‘Shatila Stories’. The result is a piece of collaborative fiction unlike any other. If you want to understand the chaos of the Middle East .

Adam and his family flee Syria and arrive at the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. Conditions in this overcrowded Palestinian camp are tough, and violence defines many of the relationships: a father fights to save his daughter, a gang leader plots to expand his influence, and drugs break up a family. Adam struggles to make sense of his refugee experience, but then he meets Shatha and starts to view the camp through her eyes.

  • The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land, meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows.

In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart.

Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.

  • By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah

On a late November afternoon Saleh Omar arrives at Gatwick Airport from Zanzibar, a faraway island in the Indian Ocean. With him he has a small bag in which lies his most precious possession – a mahogany box containing incense. He used to own a furniture shop, have a house and be a husband and father. Now he is an asylum seeker from paradise; silence his only protection. Meanwhile Latif Mahmud, someone intimately connected with Saleh’s past, lives quietly alone in his London flat. When Saleh and Latif meet in an English seaside town, a story is unravelled. It is a story of love and betrayal, seduction and possession, and of a people desperately trying to find stability amidst the maelstrom of their times.

  • A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn are torn between individual desire and the strict mores of Arab culture in this heart-wrenching story of love, intrigue and courage.

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children – four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.

Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man. But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family…

 

 

 

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