“People who see themselves as victims sometimes don’t notice when they become oppressors.”

I was told to come aloneBrown Baggers met on June 21 at Central to discuss the memoir I Was Told To Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet. This book details Mekhennet’s experience growing up as a Moroccan-Turkish Muslim immigrant in Germany and her work interviewing high profile members of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other known terrorist groups.

Most readers found the book intriguing, while a few struggled with the journalistic feel. They wondered at the type of personality it would take to keep willingly entering dangerous, life-threatening situations to pursue answers. Most readers found Mekhennet very credible and objective and chalked her risk taking career behavior to being extremely driven.

Mekhennet is an award-winning journalist who has worked for the Washington Post and the New York Times. As a result, readers found it amusing how the powerful, dangerous men she went to interview insisted on asking about her relationship status. Readers also were impressed with both Mekhennet’s access to and respect received from her interview subjects. She describes this as a combination of shared culture, connections, or heritage (as a direct descendant of Muhammad).

The virulent hatred towards “the West” and America and the growing divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims were also discussed. Readers wondered, as does the author, how an individual ends up so radicalized, not just in the Muslim world but also here at home with the increasing organization of white supremacists and even Nazi groups in America.

Readers who made it to the end of the book found the ending truly heart-wrenching. The terror has always been close to Mekhennet, as some Al Qaeda cells originated in Germany, but increasingly it is her friends and family who are affected resulting in unexpected loss and grief. Again this felt very near to Charlottesville and the experiences of last August.

While it would’ve been nice for the author to wrap up this complicated foreign affairs subject matter with a nice bow and say sunnier days are ahead, she instead was very frank about the situation which is serious and perhaps worsening. She does end on a tiny, hopeful note that we are all more alike than not, and maybe we can begin to recognize that.

Other titles:
House of Stone by Anthony Shadid
Almighty by Dan Zak
The Eternal Nazi (book she wrote with colleague)
The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

More information:
Headcovering differences
Author Bio
Author Interview

Brown Baggers will meet again on July 19 at noon to discuss The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

 

 

 

Memoirs of Refugees in Recognition of World Refugee Day

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
                           —“Home” by Warsan Shire

World Refugee Day is June 20. According to the United Nations every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. For anyone who is trying to comprehend what it feels like to be driven from your home, books written by or about refugees are a good first step toward understanding. Here are a few of their stories:

alongwaygoneA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah – Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone, and when he was twelve, his village was attacked by rebels. When he fled he was separated from his family. Beah wandered through the war-filled country before being picked up by the government army and forced to join an army unit.

 

thebestwecoulddoThe Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui – This graphic novel memoir documents the story of Thi Bui’s family’s escape from South Vietnam in the 1970s. Bui describes the difficulties her family faced as refugees and the hardships they overcame as they built a new life for their family.

 

thegirlwhoescapedisisThe Girl Who Escaped ISIS by Farida Khalaf – Farida Khalaf was 19 years old and living a normal, sheltered life in northern Iraq during the summer of 2014 when her village was attacked by ISIS. All of the men in her town were killed and the women were taken into slavery. Khalaf was sold into the homes of ISIS soldiers and is then brought to an ISIS training camp. She plots a dangerous escape for her and five other girls. This is her harrowing account.

 

hopemorepowerfulA Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming – This book chronicles the life of Doaa, a Syrian girl whose life was dramatically altered in 2011 by the onset of her country’s brutal civil war. Doaa and her fiance, Bassem, decide to flee to Europe to seek safety and an education, but just days after setting sail on a smuggler’s rickety fishing vessel along with more than five hundred other refugees, their boat is attacked and begins to sink. This is when Doaa’s struggle for survival really begins.

Books for Children

The Journey by Francesca Sanna – This picture book depicts the decisions made as a family leaves their home and everything they know in order to escape the tragedy brought by war. Best for ages 6 and up.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed – Relief workers bring used clothing to a refugee camp in Pakistan, and people grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is excited when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet and decide that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one. Best for ages 7 and up.

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz & Amy Shrodes – When an Iraqi family is forced to flee their home, they carry their beloved cat with them from Iraq to Greece, keeping their secret passenger hidden away in this true story. But during the crowded boat crossing to Greece, his carrier breaks and the frightened cat runs away. The family is devastated, but must continue their journey. However, the cat is found and a worldwide community comes together to spread the word on the Internet and reunite them. Best for ages 4 and up.

Welcoming Week Reads

therefugeesWelcoming Week takes place September 15-24 and encourages communities to bring together immigrants, refugees, and native-born U.S. residents to raise awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone. To better understand the experience of immigrants and refugees, you can check out these books (a mix of both fiction and nonfiction) from your local library:

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen – A new collection of stories, written over a 20-year period, which explores questions of home, family, immigration, the American experience and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.

The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis by Patrick Kingsley – Presents a searing account of the international refugee crisis to illuminate the realities of modern day mass-scale forced migrations, describing the ongoing safety challenges imposed on refugees in seventeen countries.

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya – Follows a family of Russian immigrants who move to Brooklyn and discover that the lines between the old world and the new are very blurred and the things they thought they had left behind are readily available in America.

Refugee Hotel by Gabriele Stabile & Juliet Linderman – Accompanied by candid photos and unforgettable stories and oral histories, a photographer and journalist present nine portraits of modern-day refugees on their way to becoming Americans, documenting their first night in the U.S. to their triumphs and struggles as they adjust to a new way of life.

Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy by Carlos Eire – Presents the story of the author’s exile in America, where his brother and he relocated as youths from their revolution-torn home in Cuba, struggled with the loss of their cultural identity, and acclimated to American culture. Continue reading