‘Homes: A Refugee Story’ by Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung

“That’s how it was in Syria; when we heard an explosion, we ran towards the chaos. Often the police and ambulances were late arriving, if they arrived at all, so we took care  of each other.”

This is an important memoir written by Iraqi teenager Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah (pronounced: Abu ba-CAR al Rah-Bee-ah) with the help of his teacher Winnie Yeung. It is a book that I think every Canadian would benefit from reading and I think it deserves to win Canada Reads 2019.

Whenever we see news footage of Syria, with all the broken buildings, bombed out neighbourhoods, and hear about the random violence that the place has suffered from for so long, it seems impossible to imagine how it was for people to be living there in the midst of a civil war. Bakr has done just that. He has told the story very honestly and vividly. “We all gained skills that we could not have imagined. Knowledge that we never really wanted to know filtered into our lives. Our ears could pick out the differences between mortars, grad rockets, and car bombs. We could tell the high notes of the metallic smell of fresh blood on the streets from the low reek of a corpse waiting for days to be found in the rubble.”

Wise beyond his years because of his circumstance, Bakr also speaks simply as a normal teenager about going to play video games with his cousins and soccer with his friends. He was just 10 when the conflict began and his memories are childlike, yet riveting because his days were marked by the juxtaposition of living the life of a normal teenager in the middle of a war zone.

What I like most about the book is his honest perspective about how it was when he came to Canada as a refugee. When he was living in constant danger he dreamt of a life where he could safely live and move and go about daily activities. But when a new home in Canada became a reality, it was far from easy, albeit safe. He speaks of homesickness and a host of unexpected and different fears to deal with like fitting in, learning language, and building a new life in a foreign culture. Though totally understandable, these emotions also made him feel ashamed and ungrateful for the opportunity he had been given to begin a new life in safety. Homes features a remarkable young man and a compassionate teacher who have given Canadians a window to understanding the refugee experience.

5 responses to “‘Homes: A Refugee Story’ by Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung

  1. I loved this book too, and i hope it wins Canada Reads! Like you, my favourite part was his coming to Canada and honestly talking about how guilty he felt, but how displaced as well. If only everyone could read this so they could understand how it felt to be a refugee, we’d all be better off.

    • Nice to know we are on the same page with this! Are you also going to the debate?

      • No! I live in Calgary, and it’s in Toronto no? Are you going?

      • Yes, it’s Toronto, and that is a bit far to come in for from Calgary! My daughter Kristin and I go every year to be in the studio audience for one of the days. Tickets are free but they go fast! It’s cool to see people so passionate about books and makes me proud to be Canadian. Anne, I do subscribe to your blog and really enjoy reading your reviews!

      • Thanks so much for the kind words! I would love to go to Canada Reads if I ever had the chance, and I know what you mean about it making you proud to be Canadian 🙂

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