A refugee’s memoir about hope, fear, luck, and the devotion of people to causes larger than themselves.
Al Samawi grew up in a traditional, highly devoted Muslim family in Sana’a, Yemen. Because of a childhood illness, he was partially paralyzed on one side of his body. He focused all his attention on his studies and on being a dutiful son, and he grew up not questioning what he had been taught about the dangers and evils of Jews and Westerners. The first half of this compelling memoir tells of the author’s life growing up in a tumultuous political and social environment. In the second half of the book, which is what makes it so powerful, Al Samawi chronicles how he became a peace activist, hiding his desire to know and understand Jews, Christians, and others committed to peace and reconciliation. At the epicenter of this story is his escape from the civil war in Yemen in 2015. He was trapped in his apartment and relied on a network of fellow peace activists, many of them Jews and Westerners spread across the globe, who helped him make his way through a nightmare of violence, bureaucratic indifference, and international chaos, not to mention numerous death threats. Had he been caught, he likely would have been identified as an active campaigner for human rights with deep and growing connections to peace movements and suspect alliances, all of which would have surely led to his death. The author is exceptionally earnest—perhaps too much so for some readers—with a tendency to reproduce lengthy conversations from years ago. Nonetheless, he is an effective, engaging narrator with an important story to tell.
Gracious and generous, this personal account of a remarkable life is a reminder of how peace comes in small increments as the result of the work of committed individuals.