Queen’s Reads brings focus & feeling to refugee crisis

The Boy on the Beach recounts Syrian war through the eyes of one family 

The Boy on the Beach is Queen's Reads' 2019 pick.
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When two-year-old Alan Kurdi’s death received global attention, the conversation about the Syrian war took on a new tone—and his aunt, Tima Kurdi, was a large part of that shift.

Now, Tima Kurdi’s book The Boy on the Beach—Queen’s Reads choice for 2019—tells the harrowing and hopeful story of her family’s escape from Syria, and their efforts to build a new home.  

Copies of The Boy on the Beach are available for free at various locations across campus, including Stauffer Library and the AMS offices.

Kurdi is a Syrian-Canadian hairdresser-turned-human rights advocate. In the four years since her nephew’s death, she’s become a prominent Canadian speaker about the global refugee crisis.

This began when she was thrown into the public eye folowing a photo of her nephew after his death went viral in 2015.

Alan Kurdi was only 27 months old when he drowned—along with his four-year-old brother, Ghalib, and mother, Rehanna—while crossing the Aegean Sea from Bodrum, Turkey trying to reach Kos, Greece.

The photograph was widely circulated as a symbol of the worldwide refugee crisis.

After immigrating to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1992, leaving her family behind in Damascus, author Kurdi was forced to watch her family endure the hardships of war in Syria from afar.  

With her book, The Boy on the Beach, she chronicles her experiences trying to bring her brothers to Canada, the anxiety of trying to keep track of her family as they fled their homes, and the ways war changed her and her family forever.

She tells stories about her five siblings, Mohammed, Maha, Shireen, Hivron, and Abdullah, the father of Alan and Ghalib, as they grew up and began families of their own.

She recounts the trials they faced at home during wartime, and abroad as refugees.

The picture Kurdi paints of her childhood in Damascus is full of warmth and emphasizes the stark contrast between pre- and post-war Syria.

Kurdi fondly recounts a childhood full of dancing, sibling squabbles, and running through the jasmine-filled streets of Rukn al-Din, the Kurdish quarter of the city. She writes of idyllic summers full of homemade cheese, fresh olives, and open land in her father’s hometown of Kobani. This is also where her brother Abdullah moved his young family as an adult.

Now, Kobani is a city reduced to rubble, gutted by war as Kurdish fighters work to fend off ISIS encroachment.

In her youth, her parents’ “open-door policy” meant her home often served as a shelter for the displaced, including Lebanese refugees in the 1980s during the country’s conflict with Israel.

At the time, Kurdi and her family never expected to one day find themselves in that same position.

Reading Kurdi’s account of her family’s struggles is difficult. She writes plainly, letting her story unfold as though she was speaking to a friend. Kurdi represents her family members on the page as animated and full of life, making the inevitable conclusion hard to bear. This ensures the message of the human cost of the refugee crisis hits home for readers.

The author illuminates the complex workings of privilege and circumstance that need to align for a refugee to successfully land on Canadian shores.

Missing papers or incorrect residence cards often prevent family reunification. These documents are easily lost in the chaos of war, and are nearly impossible to acquire again as refugees are pushed from country to country in search of safety.

Kurdi’s family is just one example of the many refugee families displaced across the globe in recent years. If her nephew hadn’t been photographed four years ago, the loss of her family would have been swept away with hundreds of other Syrian war casualties.

The Boy on the Beach is mournful—an elegy to Kurdi’s family. It remains so even through moments of joy, like when her eldest brother Mohammed and his family arrive in Vancouver, or when Ghalib gleefully discusses cookies with Kurdi across Skype from their temporary housing in Turkey.

There’s a melancholic nostalgia throughout the book for those that Kurdi lost, for the future that was stolen from her family, and for the grief and destruction of Syria—the place where Kurdi “took root and blossomed”—that now lays in ruin. 

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