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Friday, September 21, 2018

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, written and illustrated by Don Brown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2018. $26.99 ages 14 and up

"Hundreds, then thousands flee.
Many simply cross into Jordan and Lebanon, where they try to take up a new life. Others pile up at the Turkish border. Turkey will officially accept those with passports. The mass of people are without and sneak in. The night is cold. Families with nothing but the clothes on their backs steal toward the Turkish border in silence. We felt maybe it's our turn to die, but we didn't want to die. So we made up our minds to leave."

It has only been seven years since the civil war in Syria began when a group of teenagers were tortured and imprisoned for speaking out against the Assad regime. It was the beginning of a long and continuing war between the country's dictator and those who oppose his rule. Protesters were met with tanks and bombs, causing millions to flee for their lives. The resulting refugee crisis has had worldwide repercussions.

In his new book, Don Brown provides a clear look at the awful reality that is the life of those fleeing hatred and persecution in their home country. He does his best to let his readers know about the conditions the Syrians face as they try to find peace and security elsewhere; they cannot find it at home. He tells of dangerous and insidious smuggling schemes, neighboring and other countries of the world who do not welcome their arrival, the dangers inherent in fleeing for their lives, and the sadness and anger many feel for their circumstances. Resentment has grown throughout the world for those seeking asylum. There are many tragedies, but also joys shared as some find new homes. The refugees are resilient, determined and always hopeful.

Emotional renderings of this very real tragedy allow the target audience to begin to understand the enormity of the crisis. Grief, fear and total exhaustion is clear on every page. It is a heartbreaking account of the exhaustive research Mr. Brown has done while visiting refugee camps in Greece and seeing first hand what life in like in the camps where they are housed. He provides a journal summary of the visits he made a year ago, focusing his attention on the people, rather than the reasons for their flight from their homeland.

"This last visit to a camp heightened the discomfort I'd experienced on my first visit - that I was a voyeur to tragedy. The notion of having refugees recount their awful experiences of exodus seemed unnecessary and cruel. After all, those terrible stories are already widely circulated. My unease was hard to shake. In the end, I found value in the visits by their having made me a more sensitive witness to the refugees' dilemma and a more powerful advocate for their salvation."

These are ordinary people experiencing untold hardship. If you want a starting point for discussion, you would do well to share this honest, clear, and authentic account of what life has been like for so many. For those wanting to know more, the author provides pictures, a summary of his visits to the camps, source notes, a lengthy bibliography and a poignant poem of hope by Sahir Noah.

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