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THE GOOD DEED by Helen Benedict


by Helen Benedict

Pub Date: April 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9781636281124
Publisher: Red Hen Press

Set in 2018, Benedict’s latest follows a group of women who have sought refuge on the Greek island of Samos.

The book begins with the frantic rescue of an infant found at sea by Hilma, an American tourist recuperating from a mysterious trauma suffered at her home in New York. Switching among Hilma’s perspective and the voices of four refugees living in a sprawling, squalid refugee camp, the novel depicts the crises of each woman. Amina is a 19-year-old who has been recently released from one of Bashar al-Assad’s torturous prisons in Syria, haunted by the past and longing for her mother. Leila, a Syrian widow with two young sons, is desperately trying to locate her daughter, Farah, and infant granddaughter, captured by smugglers in Turkey. Nafisa, a Sudanese woman who has endured civil war, gang rape, and the murder of her family, is suffering from increasingly poor health. Reversing Homer’s Odyssey, Benedict illustrates the obstacles each refugee faces in her quest to leave home, capturing the myriad tragedies that have befallen them in frank but empathetic prose. The stark contrast between the refugees’ stories and Hilma’s attempts—following her “good deed”—to become a savior only exposes the egotism of her mission. The reader is invited to witness both the hostility with which European countries receive Black and brown refugees and the performativity of white guilt. Revealing the ways racism has been systemically encoded in law and the seemingly Sisyphean task of being granted refuge, Benedict interrogates the constructions of race, nationality, and human-made borders. As the roads of the refugees and Hilma converge, the novel comes to an emotional conclusion, reminding us that hope is still to be found in the most desolate of places and prompting the reader to consider why and how we ask a person to prove their own humanity.

An insightful reminder of our responsibilities to one another, more important now than ever.