Listening to Refugees: 5 Novels, Stories, and Essays

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Abo Adnan, a Syrian who lives in a refugee camp in Germany, asks that we not just look at refugees, but listen. Refugee literary voices:

Sculpture by Sami Mohammed.

African Titanics, by Abu Bakr Khaal. Khaal is a refugee who left Eritrea for Denmark. His novel follows his characters “through the Sahara Desert, to cramped refugee hideaways, to prisons and ghettos, out onto the frightening leaky ships of the Mediterranean—these are great, fast-moving Odyssean adventures.” These are the songs of refugees from all across the region, most of whom sink in one way or another. Translated by Charis Bredon.

“The Truck to Berlin,” by Hassan Blasim. Blasim is an Iraqi refugee who found his way to Finland. From the collection Madman of Freedom SquareThis terrifying story tells of a truck full of refugees rushing through a Serbian forest, pursued by the border police. Translated by Jonathan Wright.

“The Refugee Crisis,” by Samar Yazbek. Yazbek is a Syrian refugee currently living in France. The Guardian had a number of writers respond to the trigger of “refugee crisis”; Yazbek, a novelist and journalist, reminds us that we must see it in its context. “Yes, we need to find a solution to the refugee crisis, but let’s start by talking transparently and impartially about the underlying causes of this catastrophe that sees no end.” Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.

“Sea of Refuge,” by Hanan al-Shaykh. During the Lebanese civil war, al-Shaykh fled to London. Granta also asked writers to respond to the idea of refuge and refugees.

Men in the Sun, by Ghassan Kanafani. Kanafani was a Palestinian writer who lived, and was assassinated in, Lebanon. The novella Men in the Sun follows three Palestinians fleeing Lebanon’s refugee camps for Iraq with the goal of reaching Kuwait. They are smuggled across the desert in the empty barrel of a water tanker truck. Translated by Hilary Kilpatrick.

More recent Syrian works:

Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Front Lineed. Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen, and Nawara Mahfoud;

The Crossing, by Samar Yazbek, trans. by Nashwa Gowanlock and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp;

Woman in the Crossfire, by Yazbek, trans. Max Weiss;

Short stories by Rasha Abbas, from The Gist of It, trans. Alice Guthrie;

“My Fingers Are Not Enough,” by Derar Soltan Kurdiehtrans. Fawaz Azem;

Three other Syrian poems, trans. Azem;

And fourteen Poems from Loneliness Spoils its Victims, by Dara Abdallah, trans. Mona Kareem.

For instructors:

Teaching Syrian Stories: Between Understanding and Empathy 

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