When I didn’t manage to read a book I had selected for 2017’s Read Harder Challenge I left the library request in as these were books that I had put onto the list for several reasons. Following ElCicco’s detailed and extensive review of A Hope More Powerful than the Sea I knew I needed to read this book in order to bear witness to one woman’s experience as a refugee from the Syrian war as it is one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of my life, and with this being Melissa Fleming’s debut I had an excuse to move it up the list.
I am always stunned when I come across people who seem to think refugees are to blame for their circumstances. There seems to be a prevailing response in the United States (and parts of Europe) to blame the individual for the crimes of the masses and government. Perhaps I am so far in the other direction because I grew up in South Florida during the Haitian and Cuban refugee crises of the early 1990s. Dry foot laws and quotas, detention centers, and seemingly racist choices about who to send home to death and who to allow in permeated the nightly news as well as my classrooms and friends’ families were a part of my daily reality and directly impacted my view on what it costs for someone to leave their only home with nothing but the clothes on their back and no guarantee that they will survive the trip. Twenty years later we’re watching it happen again, on a much larger scale.
Because the suffering and despair that push refugees to flee their homes and risk their lives can only be tremendous, it is expected that a book memorializing the story of one such woman must be harrowing. Doaa Al Zamel’s is exactly that, but it is also an incredibly accessible primer on what life was like in part of Syria before the war started, the excitement that the Arab Spring brought, and the realities of suffering that families and communities have been made to endure both in the war zone but also in the places they have run to for safety. Melissa Fleming takes dozens of hours of interviews a well as other primary resources surrounding Doaa’s life and her ordeal in the Mediterranean Sea in order to make the point that not only is this suffering happening, that we are all criminally negligent (my wording) in our overall lack of response and follow through to this humanitarian need. It has become too easy to get caught up in to what the war has metastasized into; and not look into the great crevasse of need it has created.
While I wish this story was more directly from Doaa, I understand intuitively why it would have been too hard, too emotionally taxing, for her to have attempted it alone. Instead she turned to Melissa Fleming and the other UNHCR staff and humanitarians to tell her story and to help reunite her remaining family. Doaa’s story is important, and Ms. Fleming has done a respectable job in crafting a streamlined, accessible, and easily read accounting. There is no excuse not read this book.