Mahir Guven – Older Brother

mahir-guven-older-brother
Mahir Guven – Older Brother

They are neither French, nor the typical Arabs you find in Paris who mainly come from the former colonies in the Maghreb countries. So no wonder the two brothers who grow up without their mother do not belong anywhere. Their father left Syria in the hope of a better life for his kids, but the older of his sons got in trouble early, only the younger one who works as a nurse in a hospital seems to have a promising future. Yet, the feeling of being unable to fulfil his dreams – becoming a real doctor, being treated like the French – throws him off the track. With a Muslim humanitarian organisation, he hopes to do something useful with his life at least and leaves the country for Syria and the war. Three years after abominable conditions leave their mark and when he returns, he is not only the same young man he was before anymore but he also has a mission to accomplish.

“We used to just be Syrians. Well, he was Syrian, and we were Maghrebins, Syrians, sometimes French, occasionally Breton; it depended who we were hanging out with. In real life, until the war in Syria, we were all more just banlieusards than anything else. But since the war, everyone’s been calling themselves Muslim.”

Mahir Guven portrays two possible ways of dealing with an undoubtedly highly demanding situation. No matter how much effort Europeans put into welcoming refugees and migrants of all kinds, societies are not easy to actually enter. The boys have a French mother and a Syrian father, thus by nature, do not completely belong anywhere. This makes them not only fragile and prone to all kinds of delinquencies, but also perceptible to questionable ideologies which on the surface seem to provide answers neither the family nor the society can offer.

The debut novel gives the young men not only a voice, but also the reader a chance to look into their heads and get an understanding of their feelings and lacking sense of belonging. It also shows that it is not inevitably the family, the friends or the milieu someone lives in which determine about their life. There are always options, decisions are made and even if you opt for one road, this does not obligatorily have to be a one-way street. Second, the terrorists who threaten our peaceful life are not always stupid idiots, but the intelligent ones who simply were refused their share of happiness and a chance in life.

I was immediately immersed in the novel which is written in a lively and authentic tone. But first and foremost, I find it highly relevant to read about these kinds of perceptions and feelings, by far too long other voices have domineered the discourse and if we want to live up to our ideals, we need to listen to them, too.

Atia Abawi – A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

ata-abawi-a-land-of-permanent-goodbyes
Atia Abawi – A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

The family is at home, even if it is war outside, they still have themselves; Tareq, his younger brother Salim, the girls Farrah and Susan and the baby twins. He respected his mother Nour and his father Fayed and of course also his grand-mother. When a bomb hits their house, only Tareq and Susan can be saved, luckily their father was at work and is also alive. They decide it is time to leave the country, after such a loss, what is it that keeps them still there? But first, they need to go to Raqqa where Fayed’s brother lives who can lend them money. Yet, Raqqa is deep in the Daesh controlled area and going there is highly risky. But this is only the beginning of a journey which hopefully ends somewhere in Europe in peace and safety.

Atia Abawi, an American journalist who spent many years in the middle east as a correspondent and is a daughter of Afghan refugees, has chosen the number one topic in the news of the last two years for her second novel. It is her background, both personal and professional, which can be found throughout the novel; you feel in every line that she knows what she is writing about and that neither the emotions she puts in her characters nor the experiences they make are just invented, but exactly what people undergo. At times, the style of the novel has some traces of journalistic work, leaves the pure fiction, but this does not reduce the quality of the novel at all.

First of all, what I really appreciated was the fact that she does not victimize her characters. Already at the beginning of the novel, they are hit by a major loss, but they keep on fighting and do not rely on others. The risk a lot, see evil deeds committed by Daesh fighters, but still remain human themselves. The part I found especially interesting was Tareq’s time in Turkey. It is not only the large number of Syrians being stranded there and setting up a kind of community parallel to the Turkish, but first and foremost the way they are exploited, how people are trying to make profit from their fate which is annoying. Yet, I guess this is just reality.

It is just the story of one family, however, it represents what many people all over the world go through. None of them wanted to leave their country, none of them wants to live in another country of which they neither know the language nor the culture, many of them believe that those who have died are blessed because they do not have to undergo this. Considering all the negative news about refugees, we should not forget their perspective. Atia Abawi has given them a beautiful and engrossing voice.