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The Refugee Experience - 5 Book Recommendations for the New Year

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

It is the start of the new year. A time both of renewal and of change.

A time when many people try to encourage new and positive habits. I, myself, have decided to read more, and if you too have decided to do the same and are looking for potential books to read, I very much recommend the following five pieces.

The following five texts are both illuminating and profound, some are collections of art and poetry, some more journalistic, but despite these differences, they combine to tell the stories that are all too often forgotten in discussions about the refugee crisis. The individual human stories that shape it.

While The Earth Sleeps We Travel

By Ahmed Badr

This book is a collection of stories, poems, artworks, and writing by young refugees from around the world collected by Ahmed M Badr, himself a former refugee having fled Iraq with his family as a child. The pieces collected are moving, memorable, and often surprisingly humorous. Although the writers and artists come from around the world, from Venezuela to Somalia, there is a profound sense of a shared human spirit which is all too often forgotten in refugee narratives and media coverage.

The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis

By Patrick Kingsley

Published before the closure of western Balkan Route, The New Odyssey is both a piece of journalism covering the early years of the European Refugee Crisis, as well as a personal narrative following a father as he escapes from Syria to Europe.

When reading it, you can gain a palpable sense of the many dangers faced and risks taken by refugees during their displacement journey. At times it reads like dystopian fiction, but every word is true.

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

Compiled by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author behind the novel The Sympathizer, The Displaced features the personal narratives and essays of 17 writers, all of them refugees.

One essay by Reyna Grande interrogates the thin line between the globally respected figure of “The Refugee” vs the demonised idea of the “Illegal Immigrant” in a way which is truly memorable and thought-provoking. By purchasing the book you supporting the world-renowned refugee NGO the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The Ungrateful Refugee

By Dina Nayeri

A book which challenges head-on the ill-conceived notion of the refugee as someone submissive and willing to transform their identity in gratitude to their host nation. The Ungrateful Refugee truly tries to place you in the shoes of the displaced, in the shoes of someone forced to give up their home, their country, and often their culture and try to assimilate in an unfamiliar place.

The book weaves together the experience of the author Dina Nayeri who left Iran aged eight, with the stories of other refugees.

One thing the book does very well is provide an insight into the long and difficult process of adapting to a new country, showing people try to balance their old identity with their new one.

If you truly want to understand the lived experiences of refugees around the world, look no further...

What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng

By Dave Eggers

This book skillfully balances fiction and non-fiction to illuminate the life and experiences of the real-life Valentino Achak Deng, who fled Sudan after his village was destroyed in the Sudanese civil war. The book takes you from Valentino’s childhood in Sudan, his experience of displacement, and the fifteen years he lived in a camp in Ethiopia, before heading to the United States.

Although the words themselves were written by Dave Eggers, many of the events described actually happened and are conveyed to the reader through the clarity of prose.

So although technically not written by a refugee What is the What has a place in this list due to the vivid way it relates the true story of Valentino Achack Deng.

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