Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Don't Tell Me You're Afraid

Title:  Don't Tell Me You're Afraid
Author:  Giuseppe Catozzella (Author), Anne Milano Appel (Translator)
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2014 (original). 2016 (English). 256 pages.
ISBN:  1594206414 / 978-1594206412

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The morning that Ali and I became brother and sister was hot as blaze, and we were huddled under the skimpy shade of an acacia."

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes the weightiest decisions are carried along on the slight drift of a breath of air. And we with them, inadequate, flimsy."

"A seventeen-year-old girl, skinny as a rail, who comes from a war-torn country, without a track and without a coach, who fights as hard as she can and comes in last. A perfect story for Western sensibilities..." That describes Samia Yusuf Omar, a Somali girl born into poverty, into war, and into a world full of extremists. She is also a Somali girl with one dream - to run. This book is a fictionalized account of her actual story.

The book is a fictionalized account. It is dramatically told. You may agree or disagree with that approach. However, the story at the heart of the book is true. Strip away all the drama, and the story itself is still an amazing one.

The book introduces Samia at the age of eight. She lives in poverty and in the shadow of war and extremism. Yet, her world is full of love and friendship. Samia runs in joy and freedom. Through her eyes, we see both the love of family and friends and the fear of the shadows that surround her.

Slowly, the shadow of war and religious and political extremism grows into a looming giant.  The joy of Samia's life is stripped away, some slowly and some in cataclysmic events that alter her life forever. The love of family sustains her. Still, Samia runs. Sometimes in secret. Sometimes hidden. Sometimes in fear. Through her eyes, we see the grief, the fear, and, yes, still the joy.

Her skills catches the attention of the Somalian Olympic committee. She represents Somalia in the 2008 Olympics in China. She comes in last in her race. She returns home and sets her sights on the 2012 Olympics. She comes home to even more losses and even more political and religious extremism. Again, through her eyes, we see the heart breaking decision to leave - to undertake the Journey that makes Samia a refugee with the hope of freedom in Europe and perhaps another Olympics.

The remainder of the book is the story of the Journey. "The Journey is something we've all had in our heads from the time we were born ... It's like a mythological creature that can just as easily lead to salvation or death." The journey leads through the Sahara dessert. It leads through the world of human trafficking, prisons, and thieves. It leads through exhaustion, fear, despair, and starvation. It leads through the world where "truth is traded for survival. For a trifle. For naught."

Throughout, the reader is along on Samia's journey, seeing it through her eyes. Every time hope is found. Every time hope is betrayed. Every time a friend is found along the way. Every time impossible decisions are made to survive. It is heart breaking, all the more so for being real.

The story is at once a deeply personal one and a societal one.  Through Samia's eyes, we see her family and her own joys and losses. Through her eyes, we also see the world of Somalia and its struggle and crisis. Through her eyes, we also see the impact of extremism of those who live with it on a daily basis and those who object.  Through her eyes, we see the desperation in the decision to seek refuge away from the place you call home and away from those you love.

If you know Samia's story, then you know how it ends. Read the book anyways. I did not know Samia's story before reading the book. Learning that the book was based on an actual story, I looked up the history first. I then knew how it ended. At that point, I was not sure I was going to enjoy the book because, after all, I know how it ends. I read it anyways, and I am so glad. Even knowing the ending, I find myself lost in the emotional story and the dramatic storytelling.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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