on October 11th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Harper Wave
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
“Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of smash New York Times bestseller I Am Malala, Christina Lamb, now tells the inspiring true story of another remarkable young hero: Nujeen Mustafa, a teenager born with cerebral palsy, whose harrowing journey from war-ravaged Syria to Germany in a wheelchair is a breathtaking tale of fortitude, grit, and hope that lends a face to the greatest humanitarian issue of our time, the Syrian refugee crisis.
For millions around the globe, sixteen-year-old Nujeen Mustafa embodies the best of the human spirit. Confined to a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy and denied formal schooling in Syria because of her illness, Nujeen taught herself English by watching American soap operas. When her small town became the epicenter of the brutal fight between ISIS militants and US-backed Kurdish troops in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee.”
I finished this audiobook a few days ago just as the news was coming out about the Syrian government retaking Aleppo. If you don’t have a good understanding of the causes of the conflict in Syria or the history of the Kurds, read this book.
Nujeen’s family was well off. Her siblings are all older than she is. One is a director living in Germany. The rest were university students or graduates. She was unable to go to school because of her cerebral palsy. They lived in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator so she almost never left the house. She learned by watching TV. She is very smart. She taught herself English by watching Days of Our Lives.
When the rebellion against Assad started, life didn’t change too much for her family. They didn’t think it would because they lived in such a safe city – Aleppo. Her sister joined in the protests at her university until the regime’s response became too violent. Eventually they moved to their other house in Manbij.
They got used to the hardships. When her brother visited from Germany, he was horrified at their living conditions and what they were now accepting as normal. They started to make plans to leave.
Her insistence that live didn’t change that much for them and that no one thought that anything bad could happen in a city as safe as Aleppo was upsetting. I kept thinking that someday we’ll be telling this story about the U.S. I had to sit this audiobook aside for a bit because it was making me really depressed. I listened to it on the way to work one morning and was on the verge of tears all day. I finished it by listening to it in large sections on the way to and from large family gatherings so I didn’t have time to dwell as soon as I finished listening.
“We will just be numbers while the tyrant is engraved in history.” Nujeen wondering why history only remembers the names of the dictators and not their victims.
The family first left for Turkey and then the children headed on to Europe. I would love to hear this story from her sister Nasreen’s perspective. Nujeen was a teenager who had never left the house. Nasreen was in charge of her. It sounds like she drove poor Nasreen to distraction with her excitement about being out in the world. Nasreen was trying to get them through hostile countries and Nujeen was bubbling over with how exciting it all was. She did realize that there were times that Nasreen just wanted her to shut up.
They went through Turkey and then took an inflatable boat illegally to Greece. Whether or not to take her wheelchair on the boat was a major point of contention. They made the trip on the same day as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned trying the trip from farther down the coast. From there they moved country to country to Germany to meet their brother just as the countries in Europe were starting to close their borders to refugees.
Nujeen talks about how her status as an English speaking refugee in a wheelchair led to a lot of interviews. One of them made its way into this John Oliver piece.
I enjoyed Nujeen’s story because she is a very smart and very sassy teenager. That comes through in the writing. She’s funny. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis.