“You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”
Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear,
“I am the storm.”
A few years ago a story made the rounds in the media: a refugee helped save two very small children (barely toddlers) who were fleeing with their families out of the violence of Syria. By some miracle Doaa Al Zamel stays afloat and manages to get herself and the babies to rescue. This is the story of her early life and fleeing the terror to a new life. The book is written by Melissa Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who initially told Doaa's story at a TED talk.
We learn about Doaa's early life and family. As a young child Doaa had a relatively peaceful upbringing but things soon changed in Syria and the situation gradually becomes untenable. After fleeing with her family for Egypt, Doaa finds she must leave again with her fiance, Bassem. Together they embark on a harrowing journey to Europe.
It's a fascinating story and should really bring home the horrors refugees are fleeing, but I am amazed at the high reviews this book received. It is not well-written at all. I thought Fleming was a ghostwriter (I didn't know of her position with the UN until I read the flap) helping Doaa tell her story. But the writing is at best pedestrian and could have used a lot more tightening up. This is another example of a TED talk/magazine article (I believe Doaa wrote at least one piece about her experiences) that should have never been made into a book or at least should have had a much better editor/ghostwriter to help.
It's a horrifying tale that has far too many similar stories told by far too many people. But I'd recommend most readers skip this and either watch the TED talk (I haven't watched it though) or seek out Doaa's writings instead.
It happened again. I fell in love with another book by Shaun Tan. The book I'm talking about is Lost & Found and it's absolutely fabulous. There are 3 short stories collected in this book: The Red Tree, Lost & Found, and The Rabbits. As with the other books by Tan, there is a fabulous mix of fantasy and reality. The fantastic elements are used to tell stories that are all too true and real. He hits at the heart of a person with stories of depression (The Red Tree), disenfranchisement (The Rabbits), and loneliness/otherness (Lost & Found). His ability to create elaborate stories through gorgeously drawn images astounds me. I understand now the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" because many times the illustrations themselves are all that are needed to convey the real emotions of his characters. The settings are a character in their own right and the urge to leap into the book and visit those places is virtually impossible to ignore. The Red Tree follows someone who is battling against their own mind and spiraling deeper and deeper into depression. However, there's something following her that she can't see (but the keen-eyed reader will) and the end result is uplifting and powerful. Lost & Found was probably my favorite. It's about a man who comes across something just a wee bit odd and out-of-place. He decides it must be lost and there follows a journey to take this thing back to where it 'belongs'. (It's also a short animated film which I am definitely going to watch.) The third was actually written by John Marsden with the illustrations by Tan. If you replace rabbits with basically any group of people who come into an already established area and claim it for their own you'll totally get what they're trying to convey with this one. And so another Shaun Tan book added to the list 'must own for life'. 10/10
Wickedly Powerful is yet another winner in Deborah Blake’s Baba Yaga series. Bella, Sam, Koshka and the whole crew made this story fun, definitely exciting, and also very heartwarming in its own way.
“Did that cat just talk, or am I losing my mind?”
Koshka laughed, a bizarre sound coming from something with whiskers and ear tufts. “So you believe in witches but not in talking cats? You have a very limited worldview, Human. You might want to work on that.”
I really do love the whole world Blake has created for this series. There’s something so intriguing about bringing a traditional fairy-tale to life in modern times and she has certainly done that successfully here. I’ve enjoyed how the tone of each Baba Yaga novel follows the personality of the particular Baba it is focusing on.