Refocusing the lens of the Syrian war with ‘Homes’

Abu Bakr’s real-life story of growing up in a civil war

Abu Bakr’s Home is a Canada Reads Finalist.
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Abu Bakr’s response to a bombing in his hometown: go to his cousin’s house and play FIFA 13. 

While this might seem like an inappropriate reaction, it makes perfect sense in Bakr’s and Winnie Yeung’s Homes. 

The book is a true account of Bakr’s own journey growing up in war-torn Syria and eventually settling in Edmonton as a refugee.

The story is a quick and gripping read. From the start, it places the reader in the middle of the conflict—a bombing near Bakr’s mosque—and keeps them there for another 172 pages. 

It contrasts chilling memories—Bakr seeing his first corpse, finding a jawbone in his yard, collecting bullet casings with his friends—against the mundane of Bakr struggling to keep up his grades between playing soccer with his friends and video games with his cousin. 

The heart of Homes arises from this tension, proving war doesn’t mean people stop living.  

Despite the possible barrier of Bakr’s language arts teacher Yeung transcribing, the story brims with Bakr’s own humor and personality. 

Yeung finds the perfect balance of editing without losing her protagonist’s voice or letting her own get in the way. 

Thanks to their collaborative efforts, Homes puts the Syrian war into a whole new context—one removed from the Western gaze—and forces readers to confront the reality that Syria isn’t only a war zone, but a home and a place full of memories. 

For Bakr, Syria is where his aunts and uncles live, where his father’s bakery is, and where he goes to mosque to pray. It’s where his family is. 

As a result, the novel, which begins as a war story, slowly morphs into one about the bonds that hold us to a place.  War becomes the backdrop for broader themes of familial love and support. 

Family is Bakr’s lifeline. His father in particular supports him with quiet bravery and unrelenting optimism. He allows Bakr to express his fears but pokes fun at him when he takes life too seriously. It’s a refreshing take on father-son relationships, based on mutual respect and free of toxic masculinity.  

In addition, Bakr finds solace in his cousins, and together they hide from the world with sleepovers and friendly teasing. 

Bakr’s world in Syria is made up of a network of support systems. When attacks occur, his family’s first priority is to ensure each other’s safety.

As Bakr’s family moves to Canada, they struggle without their network of extended family. While Syrian gunshots might’ve been deafening, Canada is silent. It’s full of a language Bakr and his family struggle to understand, breeding isolation and frustration. 

Through this acclimatization they have nowhere to look for strength but to each other. Together they share their struggles, look forward to the future, and remember their past. 

Raised in a world of war and violence, one would expect a bitter tale of lost innocence, but what emerges instead is an emotional thank you letter to the family that kept Bakr grounded.

 

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