Book Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar


Author: Zeyn Joukhadar
Title: The Map of Salt and Stars
Narrator: Lara Sawalha
Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, [2018]

Summary/Review:

This novel is the story of 12-year-old Nour, who grows up in Manhattan, but after the death of her father, her mother takes the family back to their native Syria. Nour find herself an outsider, unable to speak Arabic. Unfortunately, their move to Syria coincides with a time of increasing protests that grow into the Arab Spring and then the Syrian Civil War. Nour and her family become refugees crossing the Middle East and North Africa.

Throughout the novel, Nour tells herself her father’s story of Rawiya, a girl from hundreds of years earlier, who disguised herself as a boy and has adventures traveling around the Meditteranean. The two stories interweave through the novel, intersecting in the similarities of the two protagonists.

The novel is a good story and in Nour and Rawiya has two characters that readers can identify. It’s a good introduction for young adult readers (and old adults like me) to the issues of contemporary Syria from the perspective of a child.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora and Barroux


Author: Bessora
Illustrator: Barroux
TitleAlpha: Abidjan to Paris
Translator: Sarah Ardizzone
Publication Info:
Summary/Review:

This graphic novel made up of simple felt-tip drawings follows Alpha Coulibaly as he attempts to migrate from Côte d’Ivoire to France.  Alpha’s wife and child left earlier to live with a sister-in-law in Paris, and he’s not heard from since.  The dream of reunion carries Alpha for 18 months as he travels in crowded vehicles across hot deserts, lives and works in refugee camps, and sees the suffering and deaths of the companions he meets along the way, including a child traveling unaccompanied.  It’s a heartbreaking yet matter-of-fact story of what far too many people encounter as refugees today.

Recommended books: Aya by Marguerite Abouet
Rating: ****

Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders


Another week, another protest, although it feels as if I should be marching in a demonstration daily.

This time is was the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Massachusetts’ Protest Against the Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders in Boston’s Copley Square.

Here on the steps of Boston’s most architecturally renown Christian church, Massachusetts’ political leaders and religious leaders of different faith traditions (including my friend Reverend Laura Everett) spoke of our promise to love and defend our Muslim neighbors and welcome immigrants and refugees of all backgrounds.

This all happened steps away from where two immigrant brothers detonated bombs that murdered three and wounded hundreds, purportedly in the defense of Islam.  The 25,000 people who marched today know that banning Muslims and rejecting refugees does nothing to protect us from attacks like the one on Boylston Street, and if anything further fan the flames of hatred.

“Let’s be clear: Donald Trump’s order has nothing to do with security. Little girls who flee murderers are not a threat to the United States. Elderly grandparents in airports are not a threat to the United States.

“No, this order is not about terrorist threats. This order is about religious tests, and the United States does not impose religious tests—period.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Book Review: Outcasts United by Warren St. John


Outcasts United (2009) by Warren St. John tells a story about something I never even knew was going on in America today.  Large numbers of refugees from war-torn nations worldwide are relocated to new homes in the US, but instead of blending into immigrant communities in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, they are moved wholesale into small towns, often ones that have hit economic hard times and need an infusion of new residents.  One of these locations is Clarkston, Georgia, a small town near Atlanta that in the last decade has seen an influx of refugees from Liberia, Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Congo and dozens of other countries.  St. John paints a surreal portrait of housing projects packed with people of many cultures and languages with virtually no interaction with people born in America.  The long term residents have either moved away or are obstinately trying to reclaim their small-town lifestyle by ostracizing and mocking the refugees, keeping them under police survaillance and restricting where they can go or work.

Fortunately, for this book to have a shred of hope there are also people who more charitably are working to help the refugees acclimate to life in America and escape from poverty (often brought on by debt for paying one-way fares to the US and exacerbated by cultural and language gaps in finding good work).  One of these people is Luma Mufleh, a woman born in Jordan and educated in Western-style schools.  She studied abroad at Smith College and at the cost of being disowned by her parents chose to remain in America after college for the greater opportunities afforded to women.  She is the creator and coach of the Fugees soccer team which allows the “misfit” boys of Clarkston to come together to share a common bond on the field.  Luma is a strict coach with rules that must be followed by any boy who wants to play on her team.  She kind of reminds me of University of Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summit in that she sounds very harsh but still commands the respect and admiration of her players.  Luma also gets result as her Fugees with very little in the way of equipment, uniforms, and as documented in this book, even trouble getting a decent practice field, still are able to compete with and defeat teams from Atlanta’s wealthy white suburbs.

The Fugees are in fact three teams – under 13, under 15, and under 17.  The central drama of this book regards the U15 squad which Luma actually dissolves early in the season when too many players refuse to follow the rules like getting haircuts and showing up on time for the bus to a game.   Yet a core group of players are able to convince Luma to reconstitute the team with tryouts for new players even though there’s little chance the team can gain any ground in the standings so far into the season.  The U13 team also shows considerable success in making it to a local tournament.

This is a well-written book centered on soccer but more about the life of refugee peoples in this small town in Georgia.  It’s quite remarkable and thankfully quite hopeful.  I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it.

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John. Spiegel & Grau (no date), Hardcover, 320 pages