When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Humour, poignancy, foreboding, joy.

Just a few relevant words that come to mind to describe this book.

I could also add complex, but I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression that its a difficult, confusing reading experience. The complexity relates to the issues explored, where face-value judgements are never helpful and people don’t always live up to stereotypes.

It is highly entertaining but is much more than mere entertainment; hopefully testing the reader’s preconceptions and biases.

There is a tiny hint of Romeo and Juliet in the story of Michael and Mina. They come from opposite sides of a political/racial divide. One is an Afghan refugee, a “boat person”; the other is the son of politically active parents who established the Aussie Values party devoted to “stopping the boats” and keeping Australia free of the taint of multiculturalism.

Michael first sees Mina on the opposing side during a confrontation between “Aussie Values” and an anti-racist group at a protest gathering. The kind of protest that is becoming increasingly familiar on Australian news programs. There’s no way he can realise how that brief glimpse of a Muslim girl will change his life.

Chapters alternate between the viewpoints of the title characters, starting with Michael, then moving on to Mina. Each chapter helps build up their stories to show us what has shaped their lives and current situations, and also how their developing relationship brings change.

I found the book very relevant in an Australia obsessed with “border control” where election results can be turned upon glib, three word slogans of exclusion. It has relevance when fear and racism can win votes.

It was one of those un-put-downable novels that  was a pleasure to read.

 

Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/

Publisher’s website: http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781743534977

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Notes on an Exodus, Richard Flanagan

xnotes-on-an-exodusNotes on an Exodus : an essay is a small book by Man Booker prize winning author Richard Flanagan, illustrated by Ben Quilty.

Flanagan and Quilty travelled to the Middle East and Europe with World Vision, visiting refugees in camps and on the road, who were escaping from the violence of their homes in Syria.

While described as “an essay” in its subtitle, the book is more a collection of brief written portraits of the people Flanagan and Quilty met on their journey.

People who had fled villages, towns and cities to escape either the day and night bombing by Assad supporting Russian planes, from the violence and oppression of Daesh (ISIS), or both.

People who had fled prosperous lives to live in makeshift tents constructed from recycled garbage.

People who once owned productive farms and orchards but now have to survive on meagre rations of bread and tea or scraps collected from the floors of vegetable shops. Where a family survives (barely) with the help of their nine year old son, working as a welder for $3 a day. who has half his weekly pay retained by his employer to ensure his return the following week.

These are the kind of stories that we in the west prefer not to know so we don’t have to see the refugees as REAL people with REAL lives who probably weren’t so different from other people we know. Individuals we can’t disguise and dehumanise as a “flood”.

Flanagan’s vignettes of people he met bring focus to the plight of millions who have been driven from their homes and homelands. They should stir similar feelings to those stirred by the photos of the small body of Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach that briefly moved the conscience of the world. But sadly they won’t. All too quickly our collective hearts have rehardened.

Suspicion and hostility against the flood have been restored.

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Refugees are not like you and me. They are you and me.

Richard Flanagan,  Notes on an Exodus, p 53

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This has also been posted on my other blog: The Onesimus Files