BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

Updated 17 July 2018
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BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press.

The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces.

From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey. 

“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.

The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”

The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. 

After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.


What We Are Reading Today: Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

Updated 22 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

The book is a moving firsthand account of migrant landings on the island of Lampedusa that gives voice to refugees, locals, and volunteers while also exploring a deeply personal father-son relationship. 

“The island of Lampedusa, as the Italian playwright and journalist Davide Enia explains in this quiet yet urgent memoir, is territorially European but belongs tectonically to nearby Africa,” states Steven Heighton in a review published in The New York Times. 

For some 20 years, migrants and refugees launching from Africa have been arriving on this remote, treeless outpost, hoping to travel on to the European mainland. 

“Structurally, the book attests that a sincere engagement with global crises can grow only from a soil of sympathy that’s local and personal,” Heighton added.

A reviewer commented on goodreads.com: “Enia reawakens our sense of wonder at the existential nature, the true terror and dangerousness inherent in the refugee journey by sea. And in the process, he reawakens our compassion.”