By Teresa Letizia
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the meaning of home. I remember a line from the diary of the fictional character John-boy Walton, “Home, an island, a refuge, a haven of love.
Our homes, and by extension, our communities, are meant to be our refuge. We know and love others in our communities; we are comfortable in the customs and language of our people. So how does it feel to be forced to flee our homes, especially by the threat of violence in times of war – when our neighbors die and our familiar is demolished – and become refugees? Several new critically acclaimed books at the AK Smiley Public Library address the plight of refugees.
I started thinking about this when I read “I will die in a foreign land”, the first novel by Kalani Pickhart. An award-winning historical fiction, it is set during the Ukrainian Revolution of 2013-2014, when President Yanukovych chose to forge an alliance with Russian President Putin, and thousands of Ukrainian citizens chose independence through peaceful protest. Their protests were met with violence from the military police, killing more than 100 civilians.
Pickhart weaves the fictional stories of protesters whose paths cross into the novel, while deftly filling a tapestry with historical and cultural threads. If it does not address the fate of the refugee who has fled, it puts us in touch with upset characters, those who remain to fight for the home in which they are no longer at ease, the democratic home that they want to save.
Two other award-winning titles deal with the harrowing stories of recent refugees.
“Nudes Are Not Afraid of Water: A Journey Underground with Afghan Refugees” was written by Canadian war reporter Matthieu Aikins. In 2016, Aikins chose to join his friend, Omar, a young Afghan driver, translator and former interpreter for the US military, on his dangerous journey down the smugglers’ route to Europe, one of the millions of refugees who left their homes that year. Omar was raised in exile in Iran and Pakistan, returning to Kabul as a teenager in 2002, only to see the Taliban return to power in 2015. Aikins describes their journey as “mostly waiting punctuated by moments of terror”.
“Those we throw away are diamonds: a refugee’s search for a home” is the column of refugee Mondiant Dogon, with journalist Jenna Krajeski. Dogon was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo into a Tutsi family. At the age of 3, he and his family fled his native village; the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis had spread to the Congo. In the Rwandan refugee camp where the family was staying, food was scarce. Later, desperate for a better life, Dogon returned to the Congo, only to be imprisoned there and forced to become a child soldier. As an adult, he earned a master’s degree in international education from New York University and became a human rights activist and refugee ambassador. The title of the book comes from one of his poems.
Another new contribution, “Learning America: One Woman’s Fight for Educational Justice for Refugee Children,” recounts the efforts of a former refugee who wants to share her good experience in America after arriving from Jordan. Author Luma Mufleh designs productive learning environments for refugee children, where healing from their traumas helps foster belonging, ultimately contributing to their educational success and creating that “haven of love”. She is the founder of Fugees Family, with schools now in Georgia and Ohio and a growing footprint bringing educational equity to refugee resettlement communities across America.
For easy access to these titles in the library catalog, visit the blog at www.blog.akspl.org. Using your library card, you can reserve a book in our catalog, free of charge, by clicking on “Reserve”.
For more reading recommendations on Ukraine, check out “Toward Understanding the War in Ukraine, a Reading List,” published in February on the Smiley Blog.
Teresa Letizia is Library Specialist at AK Smiley Public Library, 125 W. Vine St., Redlands.