What if you were 16 years old and surrounded by violence–even sexual violence? What if your neighborhood was being destroyed by war? Can you imagine gathering your little 13 and 11 year-old sisters together and making them pledge with you not to dishonor your family in this way:
If any soldier tries to rape us….we must be ready to kill ourselves. We cannot live with that shame. Our honor is all we have left. (p. 59)
We’ve all seen, heard and read about the huge migration of refugees from Syria in recent years. The bombings and destruction of the country are on the news. Many of us, even loving, caring people among us, have been frightened by the possibility of terrorists hiding in that stream of refugees and bringing that war here. It’s an irrational fear given all the vetting that goes on, but none-the less-it’s an honest emotion. This story helps humanize this war and avoid that irrational fear.
Now imagine being those girls who swore to uphold their family’s honor in such a terrifying way. What if you were the mother or father and those were your children? Would you stay put and watch your family be sexually molested, starve or simply killed outright? Our would you take whatever steps were possible to flee and start life anew in a different place? What if it meant you a pharmacist or you an engineer could not use your profession in the new country without returning to school? That you had to support your family in a minimum wage fast food or factory job? Parents in Syria are beyond deciding these questions–the war has decided it for them
In a book that has frightening parallels to Anne Frank and others the 1930’s, Doaa Al Zamel and her fiance take the risk and go with the intent of reunifying their extended family in a new place. The journey is so dangerous, so bewildering and so deadly that I could not but think of the ill-fated St. Louis being turned back from Cuba to return its desperate cargo to death at the hands of the Nazis in 1939 in which the US and Canada, as well as intended host Cuba, turned their backs on those poor, fleeing souls.
Doaa’s journey is heroic. She left Egypt (where her family had sought safety) illegally and then counted on being allowed to ask for asylum in Italy. What happens along the way is an odyssey from Dantes’ Inferno--a new circle of hell. Her courage is worthy of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre all at once. To say more would be to ruin it for future readers–and you really MUST read this.
My One Negative Note
I did have to wonder, given the state of things today, if this book would have come about had Doaa been a Christian–had she sought comfort from the Bible and not the Quran. I say this to in no way lessen her heroic story–it is truly as great as the medals I mentioned above would designate it as being. I wonder. I hope so, but I can’t say I’m positive it would have been published.
I know that some will leave rude comments for me asking that. So be it.
This is still a book I recommend to EVERY READER of this blog and beyond. It makes the point of what is going on over in Syria, and in Europe, intelligible even to the many people who couldn’t hope to find Syria on a map. I hope that it will make relate-able the young women who cover their heads or even their entire bodies as a sign of their obedience to their faith. I hope it will make their faith and their culture less strange and less threatening. I hope when people hear the word “refugee” they think not of someone wanting a better job, but of someone truly fleeing for their life. I hope this book will help us return to being a nation who welcomes “… your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to” the United States regardless of who, if any, they worship, or what language they speak or who is in the White House.
A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel by Melissa Fleming
Rating: 4.5 Stars. Just Read it.
Note to parents: This is an important book. I highly recommend you read it with children 6th grade and up, but pre-read it. Don’t sugar coat it, but be ready. There are traumatic scenes, but it is important. Talk with your children as you read it. Let them process it. Unlike today, I learned about the Holocaust in 6th grade watching original film that included footage of the liberation of one of the concentration camps. My brave 6th grade teacher walked us through this horror. No one made filthy jokes. No one used slurs. I imagine no one in my class forgot. No one gave us grief counseling. We talked, we listened. It’s important that children be taught what is going on in the world. Life is not all basketball tournaments and American Eagle clothes. Every moment isn’t magical. Let them experience reality. Without encountering stories like this, who will take on the tasks of freedom?