One sunny day, I felt a surge of happiness to find the latest book by Khaled Hosseini, Sea Prayer. I heard it was like none of his other books, but just as poignant. The moment of realization came a moment after the surge of happiness – how could I be happy to find the book that drove home the sad truth of refugees – of that child whose dead body floating in the sea inspired the book?
Child name: Alan Kurdi
Was I really ready to have my heart wrung out as I am sure it will be when someone as competent as Khaled Hosseini wields their pen on the sad plight of refugees? I picked up the book late that night, long after the moonlight had transformed the late summer landscape into a luminous wondrous land.
I always hesitate to start a book of such deep issues, and for good reason. I was in a flight once, and delved into my book. I was about halfway in when tears started streaming down my face. A co-passenger asked me if everything was alright and I pointed to the book, feeling sheepish, but she replied that she had cried after reading that particular book too, and I felt like I had met a kindred spirit. Like P. G. Wodehouse said, “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature. “ .
The book was In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner.
Vaddey Rattner writes of the child trapped in the horrendous events of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I said it before and I shall say it again: There never is an upside to War. The worst affected are the children, and we have no excuse to maim their psyches thus. I read the book more than 5 years ago, and yet it stays in my mind. Vaddey Ratner draws you into the human experience through the suffering so beautifully that words fail me.
The book made me realize what it must have been like for an old colleague of mine.
I remember the shock with which I realized she was a refugee from Vietnam. We were both heavily pregnant with our first-borns and often traded tummy-tales. We were hallway buddies. I wished her a Happy Birthday, proud of myself to have remembered, and she gave me a rattling wholesome laugh in response. Then, with her characteristic good sense, she told me about how someone took a look at her and assigned her an age when she got off the boat. “They said I was 5 then. Looking back, I see I was given 3 years of my life to live again. “
I did not know what ‘got off the boat’ meant at the time. I looked at her quizzically for she said, “Oh, because I was pretty sure I was 8 then, but I did not know English, and I did not know that when they pointed at me, they were estimating my age and they gave me a birthday too. With the war I was malnourished, bones sticking out, and I am short too, so I suppose I could easily be mistaken for a 5 year old when I came here. I don’t really know my birthday, so I just celebrate this day that was given to me. “
Over the course of our pregnancies, she told me tidbits here and there about how she had escaped Vietnam as a refugee and came to the United States.
The fast flowing rivers of my consciousness, combined with the changing people-scapes around me, meant that I thought about her every now and then even though I lost touch. I am fairly sure that she must be enriching the world around her somewhere. For her, this life was too much of a gift to throw away and not live and contribute to the fullest.
Who was it who said, that we affect the world around us simply by being, or some such thing? Just thinking of her gave me the courage to read Sea Prayer. I opened the book and was transported to the town of Homs in Syria.
Sea Prayer is more of a poem in the form of a short letter written from father to son. A few words is all that is necessary for him to take you into a grandmother’s hut where the child played.
“We woke in the mornings
to the stirring of olive trees in the breeze,
to the bleating if your grandmothers goat,”
A few strokes of the brush is all takes for the artist, Dan Williams to set the tone for ‘The skies spitting bombs. Starvation. Burials.”
It is a very short book, and not like Khaled Hosseini’s other works, but it is a book that reminds you to think of the human condition. The book finishes on this note.
”Sea Prayer was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015.
“In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting that same journey.”
Where do we belong? To Earth surely.
Read also: Do We Belong On Earth?