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Book review: New novel raw look at Syrian civil war

Virgie DeNucci/For Steamboat Today
Book review
Courtesy Photo

“A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea,’ by Melissa Fleming

Published by Flatiron Books

The citizens of Daara, Syria, gauge the mood of their city by the number of bullet casings found in the streets outside their doors. By November 2012, more than 40,000 people were killed, 5 million Syrians were forced to flee and 6.5 million people were internally displaced due to the civil war within the borders of Syria. Daara had turned into a war zone. Everyday became a lottery of life and death, as it remains in Syria today.

“A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea” is the brutally raw story of Doaa Al Zamel, a young Syrian woman, who participated in protests against her government until all protesters were labeled terrorists. That is when she knew she must flee the madness and danger of her beloved home country in order to survive. She first became a refugee in Jordan, then escaped to Egypt. Reaching her final destination, Greece, required her to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

Only a handful of people survived the crossing, including Doaa, who made it, but barely. The bottom of the sea was the only place 500 fellow refugees, including the man she loved, could find refuge.

Author Melissa Fleming is head of communications and chief spokesperson for the United High Commission for Refugees. After interviewing Doaa Al Zamel for more than 70 hours, Fleming was determined to bring Doaa’s story to the world stage. She knew telling the story of the victims of the worst war of our times would capture readers’ attention and raise awareness about the global refugee crisis.

The book describes Syria before the civil war, then sweeps the reader through the more recent political background of Syria and its Middle Eastern neighbors. Readers learn about the immoral and greedy smugglers who become the only hope for people to flee their country. The author demonstrates that refugees would not risk their lives undertaking such dangerous journeys if they could have thrived in their home countries.

Doaa’s story takes place in the same world I live in, and it shook me to my core. No person fleeing persecution should have to die trying to reach safety. This is surely a book to be read to better understand what drives people to risk their lives crossing the sea to Europe, pushing them even farther from their homeland after having already escaped the horrors of war.

Refugees are not terrorists. They are fellow human beings who have hearts that feel, yearn, love and hurt. In spite of the danger and despair Doaa experienced, her contemplative words were: “One day, I hope to return to Syria, so I can breathe again. Even if it’s just for one day. That would be enough.”

“A Hope More Powerful than the Sea” will be published Jan. 24. Orders for the book may be placed at Off the Beaten Path.

Virgie DeNucci is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.


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