Thought Box

Savage Harvest

Savage Harvest

by Deepa Gahlot April 8 2017, 6:16 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 20 secs

The picture of the little Syrian boy washing up dead on a Turkish beach had woken the world up to the tragedy of the country. People who follow the news, know about the horrific civil war conditions in Syria, the suffering of the people and the huge refugee problem. Elizabeth Laird’s moving novel Welcome To Nowhere, puts it all into perspective for the young—and adult—reader.

She has managed the razor’s edge balance of putting all the horrors of a family’s travails on the pages, yet not made the book morbid. Through the destruction and displacement, Omar, the twelve-year-old narrator of the story remains upbeat.

Omar lives with his parents, siblings and grandmother in Bosra, Syria, and dreams of being a businessman like the cousin he works for, selling tourist trinkets to visitors. Almost overnight, conditions change in the country. In 2011, violence breaks out – government forces go on the rampage, killing civilians and bombing towns. Omar and his family take a few belongings and flee to stay with relatives in the countryside, where they are relatively safe and comfortable, till the violence reaches there too.

The family packs up again and goes to a refugee camp in Jordan, where, to begin with, conditions are subhuman. They live in tents and Omar has to rush about queuing up for food, water and basic necessities. But the resilience of the Syrians is amazing. Even amidst the deprivation and chaos of the camp, the kids manage to thrive. Omar finds work in a makeshift bazaar, cheekily named Champs Elysees, and supports his family, while his father flounders in rage and helplessness, his clever brother Musa, who suffers from cerebral palsy, needs help, his mother and sisters are forced to stay indoors, since their culture decrees it. Omar may not be as good as his siblings at school, but his courage and resourcefulness endear him to the reader. Every time he is hit by misfortune, he gets up, dusts himself and fights back.

Keeping the young reader in kind, Laird has sanitized the reality of Syria to a large extent—there seems to be a fairy-tale quality to how it ends. There are even touches of humour amidst the tension—when Musa deflects danger by pretending to be retarded. Omar’s family lose their home, and some of them are wounded or killed, but with great empathy, Laird focusses on how a brave and loving family can weather all storms. Omar is a hero of the times, a child pushed into manhood too soon, and learning quickly to take change of his small tribe and leading them to a safe haven. The fate of a lot of Syrian families is not so happy.

Welcome To Nowhere
By Elizabeth Laird
Publishers: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 352

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