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True Stories of Refugees


In the nearly six years since protestors in Syria first demonstrated against the four-decade rule of the Assad family, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and some twelve million people—more than half the country’s pre-war population—have been displaced. (Laub, Zachary. "Syria's War: The Descent Into Horror." The New York Times, December 2016.)

We here in Readers Services recently read two books about the plight of refugees that we would like to recommend.

The Morning they Came for Us

The Morning They Came For Us : Dispatches from Syria by Janine Di Giovanni

These are stories of everyday people living in the brutality of post-Arab Spring Syria.

Di Giovanni is the Middle East editor of Newsweek and has covered wars in Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chechnya, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and more. She has written an empathetic, vivid, and urgent book about her time in Syria in 2012 just after Assad started cracking down on [peaceful] anti-regime demonstrations.

One stunning realization from reading this is the velocity at which Syria, and other countries before it, declined into full-blown civil war.  One day the police show up to take your daughter to prison, a barrel bomb drops on your village, soldiers raid your house in the middle of the night.  “The water stops, taps run dry, banks go, and a sniper kills your brother,” she writes. 

Particularly heartbreaking are the Syrian children. They hide in their houses all day. They cry out in the night because they are starving.  Di Giovanni repeatedly uses the word “tiny” to describe them. They wear rubber shoes with no socks and slip on the ice. They stand in bread lines in the freezing rain for hours on end and scavenge through garbage looking for food. 

This book will never leave me. It is clearly not for the faint-hearted but should nonetheless be read by every human being, especially those who live in countries with the means to help these and other refugees. —Lynn Lobash

Cast Away

Cast Away : True Stories of Survival from Europe's Refugee Crisis by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

Veteran reporter McDonald-Gibson traces the stories of five refugees trying to escape civil unrest and enter the European Union. Syria is included in her broad sweep, as well as Nigeria, Eritrea, and Libya.

The book's power stems from the ability McDonald-Gibson has to humanize the vast numbers of people these crises affect. By zooming in close on details of the individuals' stories, she paves the way for readers to zoom out. Seeing the plight of thousands upon thousands of refugees through the eyes of just a few makes the issue personal, devastating, and impossible to ignore. And McDonald-Gibson's epilogue, which hits after you’re shellshocked by the her incredible reporting, is a clear and important call to action. —Gwen Glazer


Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!


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