This is not a novel. I had to keep reminding myself of that all the way through.
This is not a novel. This is real life. These things happened, and are still happening, and sadly will probably continue to happen for a while yet.
Melissa Fleming is Chief Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In her work, she comes across many stories of desperate people trying to reach safety, a place where they can flee the horrors going on in their countries of origin and make a new home.
Doaa’s story moved her greatly, and she knew it would move others too. So she set out to record it, with the help of Doaa herself, her family and friends, and some of the people Doaa had met in her journey from Syria across the sea.
Doaa was a normal child in Syria, living with her mother and father and siblings. Her childhood was in many ways unremarkable: just another girl playing with her friends, dreaming of one day breaking the mold and being the first of her family to go to university.
But when she was a teenager, the revolution came to Syria, and with it came war. Her family stuck it out longer than some others, but eventually they knew they had to move for the sake of their children’s safety.
They found refuge in Egypt, where they were welcomed as brothers and sisters by the locals and were helped to get back on their feet.
Just as they’d started building a life there, however, unrest hit the Egyptian government as well, and suddenly Syrians weren’t so welcome anymore.
By this time, Doaa was married, and with her husband decided to make the long journey across the ocean to Europe, where they hoped to seek asylum. But when a boat deliberately crashed into the side of the ship that was carrying the refugees, sinking it into the sea, Doaa had to call upon all her strength to keep fighting.
When she was rescued, Doaa was bobbing along in the ocean, surrounded by the corpses of people who hadn’t managed to make it, clutching two babies in her arms.
This book is the story of how she got there.
It is not a novel.
It is real life.
These are real people, fleeing wars and atrocities. Children and adults who have seen people dying before their eyes, who know they have to keep moving because they might not be welcome anywhere else either. Who think they’ve found a new home, a place to call their own, but as soon as they dare to feel a tiny bit stable, something happens and suddenly the ocean seems like the best and safest bet.
I knew about the plight of refugees before, of course. I read the news. I wept internally for the little boy who was washed ashore, and for the millions of others whose stories haven’t been told, whose names we don’t know, and towards whom many people seem inhumanly unsympathetic.
But there is something about reading a single story that can touch you in a way that knowing about millions of people with similar stories doesn’t. It personalises it, makes it more real. Brings it home.
This is not a novel. This is Doaa’s life, and it is so important that it is read and shared.
In a time when it can sometimes feel like hate is winning, it is vital to keep reminding ourselves of the humanity of others. Of how easily their stories could have been ours, with a simple twist of fate. Of how we might be able to help.
This is not a novel. It is a hugely important book, and I think everyone should read it.
A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea by Melissa Fleming is published by Little Brown and is available in hardback, paperback or ebook.
I received a review copy of A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea from the publisher. All views are my own.