Nuri and his wife, Afra, have survived the arduous trek from Aleppo to the UK, and while they are awaiting their asylum application interview, they are staying in a B & B with immigrants with similarly devastating pasts. This waiting is not easy. Nuri is plagued by flashbacks of their escape from Syria, the trauma and losses they’ve experienced during the war there, and the anxiety about what lies ahead. But because he is seeing this trauma through his own eyes, he is finding it hard to connect with Afra, who is seeing it through her own. The question is whether or not they will find their way back to the family they know they once were.
This is not my first exposure to the refugee experience; though this may be one of the most poignant. I believe what contributes greatly to this is the sensorial nature of the author’s descriptions. We inhale Afra’s rose perfume as Nuri does,. We hear the buzzing of the hives tended to by Nuri and his cousin, Moustafa. And we can envision the stark colors of the drawings created by Afra, even when she cannot. And since we are right there in the sensory experience, we are also with them in their fear, their vulnerability, not knowing whom to trust, wondering where their next meal or shelter will come from or how they will get to the next step of their journey. We feel it in our bones.
In this depiction, we also see the worst of people and the best, as we do in most crises. We see the vultures who prey on the vulnerable, those who profit from those who are destitute and desperate and the corrupt underworld that feed off of this humanitarian nightmare. As Nuri gains the trust of others in his travels, he learns their stories and sees that his situation is not even the worst possible, and he feels deeply, especially for the plight of the many babies and young children refugees. On the other hand, he also encounters many who are kind, those who give food and clothing to the passing refugees, and those who do show compassion and support them in their journey.
I think this is an important read with an understated yet powerful impact that will linger with you long after you turn the last page.