“A Lullaby in the Desert” by Mojgan Azar

For those of us used to the story of Middle Eastern refugees when they arrive in Europe and the problems they experience and cause, this story is fascinating because it shows the opposite end of the story: where they started.

This novel is at its best in its description of the life of a displaced person living in Iraq. Her name is Susan, and she is an Iranian refugee trying to make a life for herself in Erbil at the time that the Da’esh were attacking Mosul. The incredible detail of her existence as a refugee woman in an Arabic country is very moving and believable. The fates of the children in this story are especially poignant and lend credence to the title.

Her chances of surviving are so poor that she decides to throw herself on the mercies of the human smugglers, starting her epic voyage across Syria through a revolutionary war zone. Suffice it to say, half of the refugees who start the voyage with her are killed by either the Da’esh or the smugglers, and the survivors are required to break out on their own and make their way to the Mediterranean, preparing to escape to Europe.

The strength of the story is the portrayal of the internal reality of the main character as she moves from one horror to the next. The weakness in the later part of the book is the changing of point of view that shows the mixed reactions of various victims at different levels of the experience, yet weakens the unity of our experience.

This is an interesting story that starts with a great deal of truth, but fades into a jumble of mixed adventures, and ends with a rather sudden rescue and an optimistic future, completely ignoring the second half of the journey that Westerners are most familiar with.

Required reading for anyone who wants a first-hand account of life in Syria and Iraq during the Da’esh era.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)




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