A Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard
Age Range: 12 & up
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The self-published memoir of a young man who traveled from Ethiopia as a refugee to the US and eventually to Harvard is now being brought to YA audiences as a widely publicized paperback reprint. Asgedom’s story is compelling; after three years in a refugee camp in the Sudan, his family—mother, father, brother, and sisters—made their way to the Chicago area where, thanks to their own faith and grit and the everyday generosity of their community, they managed to establish a life for themselves. The most vivid character to emerge from this rather scattershot collection of memories is the author’s father, a medical professional in Ethiopia who became a janitor in the US. In upper-case letters, he enjoins his sons to achieve at all costs or “I WILL MAKE YOU LOST.” At other moments, he reflects with great glee on his success in helping fellow refugees work their way around the American legal system. After delivering the commencement address at his graduation from Harvard, the author went on to become a motivational speaker, and, unfortunately, this memoir carries the dual burden of too much motivation and too little editing. The formal prose frequently approaches the histrionic, as in this description of the family’s journey from Ethiopia to Sudan: “Even stories fail me as I try to recall the rest of our journey. I know only that the wilderness took its toll, that our young bodies gave way, and that we entered a more barren and deadly internal wilderness.” Too, there is more than a hint of self-aggrandizement, as when the author describes his high-school track training: “Fueled by my improvement during the cross-country season, I kept training throughout the brutal Illinois winter. I ran almost 400 outdoor miles . . . The discipline brought results. In track, I ran the anchor leg on our all-state 4 x 800-meter-relay team. We won our conference championship . . . ” Still, there is much in this account for the judiciously selective reader to ponder, and it does genuinely represent a significant portion of the contemporary American experience. (Nonfiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-316-82620-0
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2002


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