war

READ THE WORLD – Syria: Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini

At just seventeen, Yusra Mardini and her older sister Sara, decide to flee their native Syria when the fighting gets too dangerous. Together they make the perilous journey to the Turkish coast and board a small inflatable dinghy bound for Lesbos. Twenty passengers are forced onto the tiny craft and soon the engine dies and the boat begins to sink. Yusra, Sara and two others jump into the sea to lighten the load and help navigate the water for an exhausting three and a half hours until they reach the shore, they save the lives of everyone on board. Butterfly follows Yusra’s life from a happy childhood, to growing up in a war-torn suburb of Damascus, through Europe to Berlin and on to Rio de Janeiro where she competes as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Yusra, her sister, and the other people they met as they travelled to Europe are all so incredibly strong and brave. Yusra and Sara have to leave Syria without their mother and younger sister. While they face dangers as they deal with the sea, smugglers, and the police across Europe, there’s still the constant worry about their family who are still in a city where there’s almost constant shelling and gunfire.

It’s tough to read about Yusra’s life in Damascus after the conflict starts. It’s sad that she becomes desensitised to the sound of gunfire or explosions so quickly when she’s a young teenager. She and her family have so many near misses when it comes to dangerous situations. For instance, Yusra is training in the swimming pool when a bomb falls through the ceiling, lands in the pool, and doesn’t explode. There’s a mad rush to get as far away from the place as possible and that incident puts a stop to Yusra’s training and dreams of the Olympics for a while.

Yusra’s story does well to capture how there’s good and bad people everywhere. How someone might call the police on a group of refugees because the constant media cycle about terrorists makes them paranoid, but then others might volunteer to help people find clothes, food, and somewhere to stay in a country that’s far from home.

Butterfly does so much in disproving the narrative that some portions of the media like to present about refugees. None of them want to leave their home. Before the fighting starts, Yusra and Sara are like any other teenage girls, they go to school, they swim, their have friends and go shopping. Because we, by which I mean Western audiences, often only hear about countries in Syria when there’s conflict, and see images of bombed out cities, and people living in tents with no electricity, it’s easy to take that as face value and presume that’s what life has always been like for those people when in fact it’s the complete opposite.

Yusra’s internal battle with the word “refugee” was fascinating and explained really well. It’s so easy for her to see it as an insult or a sign she’s a charity case, for instance she struggles to decide if she wants to be a part of the Refugee Olympic Team because she feels she should get there the same way as any other competitor. As time passes though, thanks to the people she meets and what she learns about herself, she decides that it’s just a word and it doesn’t make her any lesser than anyone else.

Butterfly is well-written and engaging. I found it easy to care about Yusra, her family and new-found friends. Yusra is an inspiring young woman, but she makes it clear that while she’s learning to use her fame and voice to bring attention to the thing’s refugees go through and how they are still people with hopes and dreams, she is still the same person who loves to swim and wants to compete for her country in the Olympics. 4/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Lebanon: DeNiro’s Game by Rawi Hage

DeNrio's GameBassam and George are childhood best friends who have grown up on the Christian side of war-torn Beirut. On the verge of adulthood, they find their paths are looking like they will diverge. George begins to amass power in the underworld of their city; he becomes a part of the militia, and finds a passion for crime, killing and drugs. Bassam dreams of escaping the city and his home country, and the best way to fund his dreams of the West is through a series of petty crimes Their two paths collide with explosive consequences and nothing will be the same for either of them.

DeNiro’s Game is told from Bassam’s perspective and it’s through his eyes you see the choices both he and George make and how it slowly makes them grow further and further apart.

The audiobook of DeNiro’s Game I listened to was narrated by Jonathan Keeble and I wasn’t over keen on his narrating style. I couldn’t connect with Bassam though I’m not sure if that was wholly down to his narration or down to the writing style in general. DeNiro’s game has very poetic writing and there’s almost a constant stream of similes and metaphors from Bassam.

The way bombs are described, falling on Bassam and George’s city is strangely beautiful. DeNiro’s Game is about war, what it does to people and how it changes somewhere so much. It’s a harsh look at the affects of war and in many ways, Bassam has become desensitised to it all. It’s a part of his life, he would rather be walking the streets as bombs fall rather than hide under ground in the shelter. He and George have fought to survive, and they aren’t the boys they once were. They are both in a state of hypervigilance, something that is clear to see when Bassam gets the chance to make it to the West.

DeNiro’s Game is a poetic tale about lost youth and the fear of violence. Bassam might not always be a likeable character, the way he treats women for instance is often abhorrent, but he is a sympathetic one as in many ways he’s a victim of circumstance. But both he and George would never accept being called the victim of anything as at their core they’re made of steel.