Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird
|Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Deeply moving story of a Syrian family and its travails through the dreadful civil war in that country. You can always count on Elizabeth Laird to write fearlessly but with compassion.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: January 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
Longlisted for the 2018 CILIP Carnegie Medal
Omar is a twelve-year-old boy living in Bosra, Syria. He works two small jobs before and after school. He prefers the jobs to school. Omar dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur with a network of businesses to rule over. He's already developing a successful sales patter. Omar has a clever sister who wants to be a teacher, and a clever brother who few realise is clever because he has cerebral palsy and people can't see past his speech impediment. He has a father who works for the government, a mother who worries too much, a hypercritical granny and a couple of annoying younger siblings.
It all sounds pretty much like any family near you, right? But then civil war comes. And there are soldiers in the house, tanks in the street, and citizens denouncing one another. Everything changes. The family has to move to keep safe. Omar's sister might be forced into a marriage she doesn't want because his father thinks it's the only way to ensure her safety. And in the end, things get so bad that leaving Syria altogether is the only option.
How will Omar cope as his world disintegrates around him?
It's no secret that I am a fully paid up fangirl of Elizabeth Laird. So it won't surprise you that I loved this story. It is heart-rending and, at times, difficult to read. But it never shies away from truth-telling. I think fiction for young people, more focused and direct as it is, is often more able to get to the heart of pressing but contentious issues than adult fiction is. And Laird, a courageous writer, grasps this well.
The story begins at the early stages of the Syrian Civil War and so is unencumbered by the rise of Daesh complicating an already complicated situation when explaining how things started. Omar's father represents the government's view: law and order matters more than personal freedom. Omar's older brother Musa represents the position taken by the rebels: the government's human rights abuses must be stopped if the country is ever to progress. Omar himself has no interest in politics at all and just wants to become a successful businessman. Laird explains a complicated political landscape through her characters with great clarity.
The family's journey - from home in Bosra, to grandmother's house, to aunt's house, to Jordanian refugee camp - is one followed by hundreds of thousands of Syrian families and you can see how events are totally outside their own control and how family ties are simultaneously strengthened and threatened when lives are led in conflict zones. And you can't help but love Omar, who has the gift of the gab and is a fabulous salesman, even when everything around him is total disaster.
It's one for the dedicated reader because the complexity of the Syrian situation has to be explained for the story to make any sense at all and so it is quite a dense novel in comparison to some of Laird's others. But it will repay the effort in spades. And then some more spades.
Fifty pence from the sale of each book will be donated to an international charity supporting the Syrian refugee crisis and if you want to do more, you can read about The Hope School and Mandala Trust here about providing education for young people, even when they have had to flee their homes because war came to their country.
You might also enjoy Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah, the story of a refugee once he has reached the UK. Or Here I Stand by Amnesty International, a collection of short stories about human rights around the world. Laird has a story in there!
You can read more book reviews or buy Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.