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Book Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

Publisher’s description

the unwantedIn the tradition of Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Sibert Honor winning Drowned CityThe Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone. 

 

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

 

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of all of Don Brown’s graphic nonfiction. If you are unfamiliar with them, I hope you will check into them and add them to your collections, particularly his stunningly moving book on Hurricane Katrina, Drowned City. This slim volume packs a real punch, filled with information and first-person accounts of Syria’s refugee crisis.

 

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

Brown gives readers a closer look at life both inside and outside of refugee camps. He also shares statistics that help inform the stories he is telling, such as numbers of registered refugees, applications for asylum, and numbers of the dead and missing. He goes on to show the tolls on the countries accepting refugees and the lengths many countries went to to keep refugees out. As sympathies wane, many begin to fear and hate the influx of refugees, whom they see as a threat and drain on resources. As more borders close, more and more people find themselves stranded. One refugees asks the heartbreaking question, “Who cares about us?” Brown takes readers back to Syria, looking at the continued war there, with the eventual exodus of so many who had hoped to be able to wait out the violence and unrest. Brown ends with a family making it to California and speaking about the future. He then includes extensive back matter explaining why he focused this story so closely on the refugee experience without going into the complicated roles that religion, politics, and cultured played in the story. Included are journal summaries from his May 2017 visit to a refugee camp in Greece, lengthy source notes, and a bibliography.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9781328810151
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/18/2018