Thornhill (The Curtain Maker of Beirut: Conversations with the Lebanese, 2011, etc.) offers a personal account of her time volunteering in Greece as refugees arrived from Syria and other nations beset by strife.
A British child protection barrister by profession, the author, like countless other citizens of the world, had been moved by the plight of mostly Middle Eastern refugees who seek better lives in Europe but instead end up herded into camps like cattle. Taking stock of “what skills I could offer,” Thornhill thought that her middling ability to speak Arabic might help. She made arrangements to assist through an organization of volunteers based in Norway and received an assignment to report to an encampment in northern Greece dubbed the Hara Hotel. Arriving there in April 2016, the author became acquainted with a Syrian Kurd refugee named Juwan Azad, who was driven away from a war-torn section of Syria. Azad spoke English fluently, which gave Thornhill the opportunity to learn from him in-depth. Later, hoping to establish a permanent life away from the refugee camps, Azad risked his life hiking through Macedonia, Serbia, and Hungary to cross into Austria. Thornhill learned of Azad’s journey, reuniting with him near Vienna to gain compelling material for this book. In January 2017, the author re-entered Greece for just over a week to find out what had happened to the refugees who were temporarily stranded at Hara Hotel, among other sites. Although not every refugee was despairing for the future by early 2017, what the author uncovered contains far more darkness than light. Thornhill overlays the wrenching refugee sagas with her personal quest to understand why Syria began its alarming unraveling in 2011. What she learned might not feel revelatory to knowledgeable diplomats, but it will certainly enlighten casual followers of that nation’s bloodshed.
A brave, affecting book about a continuing humanitarian crisis.