Review of reviews: Books
Book of the week
The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis
Today’s global refugee crisis is often in the news, but it’s “rarely discussed with much nuance,” said James Norton in CSMonitor.com. In both Europe and the U.S., politicians paint the millions of people flowing out of the Middle East and Africa as either threatening outsiders or victims of an unjust world order. But British journalist Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian’s first dedicated migration correspondent, offers a perspective “more complicated and also starker than either vision.” Reporting from 17 countries in his new book, he introduces readers to dozens of individual migrants. They cross the Mediterranean in rubber boats and cross the Sahara in unventilated tanker trucks because they’d rather die—as many have before them—than stay put. Kingsley brings a “clear-eyed and sober sense of compassion” to their plight, plus a determination to show that the crisis can be overcome.
The book is held together by the story of one refugee and his family, said Natasha Lennard in The New Republic. In alternating chapters, we follow Hashem al-Souki, a former Syrian civil servant, on a harrowing three-year odyssey that begins when he’s kidnapped and tortured in his home country. In Egypt, the entire family narrowly misses boarding a crowded boat that kills 500 when it sinks on its way to Europe. Later still, Hashem becomes separated from his wife and children as he heads north. But Kingsley succeeds as well in illuminating the bigger picture: the waves of migrants fleeing eastern and western sub-Saharan Africa; the millions of Syrian refugees flooding Lebanon and Turkey; and the increasing hostility that greets many of those who reach Europe. He urges the West to change its policies, and because he’s seen the crisis up close, the reader has “all the more reason to trust his analysis.”
The status quo is clearly unsustainable, said Caroline Moorehead in the New Statesman (U.K.). Kingsley is “scathing” in his criticism of Europe’s focus on intercepting smugglers. As he shows, each crackdown on boats heading to, say, the Italian island of Lampedusa merely redirects the flow of refugees. The interventions have done nothing to sap the migrants’ will because, as one Syrian tells Kingsley, staying home means you are “dead already...a destroyed human being.” More than 60 million people are now displaced, and a reader of The New Odyssey can’t help but see that no Western politician can be taken seriously who vows to bar their entry. “The choice that faces the West today seems to lie between an orderly system of mass migration—and chaos.”