JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . . ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . . MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . . All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers -- from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end. This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.
The events themselves appear to be historically accurate and I found myself aching for the families involved in their journey. Each of them went through three listed phases of the journey:
1 - Escape the horrors of their home - Young Josef and his family escaped Nazi Germany in 1939; Young Isabel escaped Castro's Cuba in 1994; Young Mahmoud escaped Aleppo, Syria in 2015.
2 - Try to survive the trek over land or sea to get to a new safe home - They each had illness, disease, dangers of the environment, death, as well as major and unrelentless obstacles to arrive at their new home. .Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud, although young, were fighters and instrumental in helping their families Their struggles were real and the book portrays them vividly in a way a middle school reader could understand their plight in each of their times n history.
3 - The last part of the refugee is to start over in a new country. Often times they are a different religion. Their education, degrees or certifications they had in their home country may not be valid in the new country, so they have to start over - oven times with little or no money. They may not speak the same language or be accepted graciously in the country they are fleeing to.
I found it to be engaging and well written, but I found it to be a bit political when Gratz encourages the reader to donate to UNICEF who helps Syrian refugees. He made it a point to note that President Trump had banned Syrian refugees from entering the country, but did not give the reason.
You’ll meet Josef first. He is a Jewish boy in 1938 Germany. His father is taken one night and returned much later a changed man after being released from a concentration camp with orders to leave Germany immediately. Josef, his parents, and his little sister board the St. Louis, a ship bound for Cuba. The Cubans have agreed to take some Jews off the German’s hands. It’s an arduous journey with varying help on board. The twists and turns of this true historic journey on this ship will be wrenching for you to follow.
Isabel lives in Cuba in 1994 when Castro said that anyone who wants to leave Cuba can without worrying about being killed if caught. Isabel knows they must leave because her father will end up in jail. She solves their neighbor’s problem and gets her family passage on the neighbor’s small boat. Crossing the waters from Cuba to Florida is very dangerous, and most people die. Their trip is harrowing and heart-breaking.
The last person is Mahmoud, a Syrian refugee in 2015. Aleppo has been in the news a great deal over the last couple of years. The city has been hammered and torn apart. Mahmoud and his family finally determine that only death awaits them, so they need to leave. Their desire to get from Syria to Germany is difficult. If you watch the news, you’ll see their plight as familiar, but your view will be far more intimate and real.
Each story is to show the plight of refugees that never really changes. The author wants to make the point that only with help and caring for one another can we all make the world a better place even though we’ve never learned from the past. Country after country abuses its people until they are left with nothing except the desire to leave. Survival becomes difficult and every moment is fraught with despair and fear. If they find a safe haven, life must be completely remade--in another country with another language and a new set of customs. The plight of the refugee is hard; Alan Gratz wants to make it more personal with this novel.
While not biographical accounts, they are based in fact and are bites and pieces of real stories, of real people, fleeing unimaginable horrors in the search for a better life and these stories were all heavy hitting. It was amazing how relatable each character was. While spanning different eras, different cultures, different struggles, their humanity bound them together. They each had hopes and dreams for a better life, love for their families, unimaginable courage in the face of adversity. They once had friends, played games, watched TV, played with toys and yet faced such terrifying obstacles to living the simple, happy lives they were meant to live.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was how each story was in some small part connected. It really highlighted the point that we are all, as a human race, connected in some way or fashion and the choices of our actions ripple throughout not only our life, but generations of lives. It is really quite powerful to sit back and look at in a novel which spans so many decades and generations. These stories were touching, and heartbreaking but most of all important. Mahmouds story is all too relevant in today's time. The United States continues to wag war on refugees in the political sphere and books like Refugee are important to putting a face, a story, an actual human being, to the elusive word, "refugee". Stories like Josefs, Isabels, or Mahmouds could be our own; we are only separated by good fortune of circumstance.
The novel tracks 3 different families from three different countries in three different periods as circumstances at home force them to search for a country to live in. It shows that while refugees may appear to be different than us, they could easily be any one of us. None of the protagonist chose their plight. They did not choose to be forcefully removed from their homeland.
This is a good book for all ages, filled with reminders and insight that we all can benefit from.
The journeys are fraught with danger and some tragedy. The three story lines are connected through the character of Ruthie. Although the time and places are different, the refugee experience has some commonalities.
First there is Josef, a Jew in Germany at the start of what will become WW2. His family is on the run. His father spent time in a concentration camp and was released on the promise that him, and his family will leave the country and never come back. But their tale is not an easy on, and will extend further, and across more miles than a person can fathom. It involves a cruise ship, a medical scare, and repercussions that some people still doubt.
Then there is Isabel. In 1994, her and her family try to take advantage of the Wet Foot, Dry Foot law of the US, that would allow any Cuban to set foot on american soil to stay and seek asylum. It was needed. Cuba was run by Castro who was slowly starving his people after treaties with other countries fell through.
Lastly there Mahmound, a Syrian refugee, in a war that is still going on. In this book his story takes place in 2015, but please note, its 2018 and this is still a reality. After his home is destroyed by missiles, his family decides to seek asylum in Germany. They are not a poor uneducated family, but a family who was saving their money, and only planned on leaving if it was absolutely necessary.
These stories are played out round robin through eight and a half hours of danger, hardship, and heart ache. You are glued to the story, praying for everyone to be safe, but knowing what you see on the news, that bad things will happen. The author has done such an excellent job invoking feelings of the readers. He uses the mindset and values of the time to help influence the very real actions of his characters. At the end of the story he even fills in that all these characters are based on real people throughout history. And it is all heartbreaking. Every single bit, but you want that heartbreak, and hope and pray for a miracle. Some may come, some may not, but you will need to read this for yourself to find out.