A History of Atrocities: Review of Alan Gratz’s Refugee

Reiterating the grotesque reality of war and its repercussions, Refugee is a 2017 novel by the American author Alan Gratz. This novel has grown out of the writer’s dedicated concern for those who stand in the midst of war, homeless, facing what we could never think of (in our sweet, happy, ignorant lives). He is perhaps a lone voice amongst the unperturbed multitude who didn’t turn a blind eye towards the poor refugees who have suffered and are suffering. He also donates funds to refugee children around the world. One realises, after reading the novel, the actual tragedies of these people. Gratz has fictionalised reality.

The story revolves around three kids separated by time and space but united by their similar stories: of being refugees and going through precarious situations, depression, loss, subjugation, and what not. One of the kids is Josef, 12, who is a Jew. His story is set during Nazi Germany in 1938, when he and his family were being pursued for having the tag of a Jew. Afterwards, Josef and his family embark on a long journey to leave their native country and national identity behind and find a new home and perhaps a new identity, but there is still a lot to endure henceforth.

The other kid is Isabel, 11, who is a Cuban. Her story is set in 1994, when the Soviet Union had fallen and Cuba had hit rock bottom. Amidst starvation and riots, Isabel and other Cubans try to evade Cuba, but their struggle is not an easy one. So here is Isabel’s journey to the Land of Dreams/Opportunity.

Mahmoud, the third child, was born in Syria in 2015, surrounded by incoming missiles and bombs as a result of the ongoing civil war between protesters and the president.The novel shows Mahmoud and other Syrian refugees as they escape the murder in Syria and cross different nations and an entire continent to reach a new land. Gratz has given a veracious description, as I have corroborated it. For instance, the mention of “hills of life jackets” on the Greek island of Lesbos is a true account.

War has proven to be futile and remorseless. Gratz has also tried to show the loss of one’s identity and culture when one leaves one’s nation. In a way, the refugees could not boast of belonging to any nation. They have already left one nation, and the one where they have settled does not fully accept them. Refugee is the story of loss, grief, suffering, and a journey to safeguard one’s life. It is both harrowing and captivating.

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Anam Tariq
Anam Tariq is a poet and writer with an MA in English from Aligarh Muslim University and a poetry collection A Leaf upon a Book (Leadstart, 2022) to her name. She runs The Wordsridge Newsletter on Substack and writes for Writers’ Cafeteria, and others. She is also a poetry and prose reader at Culinary Origami Journal. Anam’s poems appear in The Punch Magazine, The Alipore Post, The Chakkar, Swim Press, Spill Words, Verse of Silence, coalitionworks, LiveWire and elsewhere. In her free time Anam loves immersing herself in books. Website: www.anamtariq.in.


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