Publication Date: 12 January 2017
Omar doesn’t care about politics or school. At 12 years old, he knows that when he is older he’s going to set up his own business. He knows what he wants from life and he has a plan to get it. But then, he finds out his family are moving from the beautiful city of Bosra, away from his friends, away from his job that’s providing his savings for his business.
Once in Daraa, Omar’s older brother, Musa, becomes increasingly involved with a group of young political activists. He escapes scrutiny because he has cerebral palsy. With riots, shooting and shelling increasing, the family move once again and head to the country.
While living here, we are offered more insights to the culture and customs of Syrians, but the war catches up with them once more and they are forced to flee. We journey with them across the border to Jordan to a refugee camp, where they must find a way to carry on living.
There are things about this book that I loved; it begins with an explanation of why the civil war began in Syria, so that the reader understands the context for the story which follows. Elizabeth Laird provides more context at the end about how she researched the story, and the people she met while working in a refugee camp in Syria.
However, having read Oranges in No Man’s Land, I was ready to be taken on an emotionally charged journey. I had tissues ready, but I never needed them. The characters seem generic and stereotyped, none of them seemed to grow or develop throughout all they endured. I didn’t get a clear image in my head of how different Daraa was to Bosra. I felt as though I was being told a story rather than being shown; I never quite felt as though I was there with the characters. And the ending? It was all a bit ‘happily ever after’ for the family; an ending most families wouldn’t get.
That being said, I do think that this is a book that needs to be read. While our news reports ever growing numbers of refugees crossing Europe, it regularly fails to explain why. How many people can actually remember what started the civil war? While this is a fictional family, their story is reality for hundreds of thousands of people, and that thought does fill me with tears. It’s a reality that, thankfully, we cannot equate to.
Never more have we needed a generation who value acceptance of difference, who are willing to look beyond the scaremongering headlines for the truth behind them, a generation who hold compassion, understanding and empathy as qualities to be valued highly. If this book does nothing more than create empathy with refugees from this generation of children reading it, then it will have done an amazing job.
Ebook proof courtesy of Pan Macmillan via Netgalley