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ABAWI, Atia. A Land of Permanent Goodbyes. 288p. Philomel. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399546839.
Gr 7 Up–Told from the point of view of Destiny, this novel focuses on one Syrian family tragically affected by a senseless and brutal war. Tareq, the eldest son, along with his father and young sister, are the only members of their immediate family still alive after their village is bombed. The only practical means of survival is to flee their homeland for Turkey, Greece, and ultimately, Germany, to evade persecution and probable (if not inevitable) death. Abawi presents a gripping, heartbreaking story about the refugee crisis in Syria, and how all wars cruelly impact people, society, and nations. The author does not shy away from many of the barbaric acts of terrorism perpetrated against the anti-establishment Muslim citizens: beheadings followed by vacant-eyed human heads posted on metal spikes to terrorize nonbelievers into compliance. She contrasts this poignantly, memorably, and poetically with the endearing way she describes Tareq and his loving family. Several other characters are introduced. Alexia, an American on vacation in Greece, decides to stay in the country to help. Her story is an integral one as it merges with Tareq’s arrival, though the thread ends somewhat abruptly. Overall, Abawi skillfully places humanity enmeshed in war into two sides: the “hunters” who feed on the suffering and the “helpers” who lend a hand. VERDICT An inspiring, timely, and must-have account about the Syrian refugee disaster and the perils of all wars; best supplemented with nonfiction information for research purposes.–Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY
From award-winning journalist Abawi (The Secret Sky, 2014) comes an unforgettable novel that brings readers face to face with the global refugee crisis.
Tareq, a young Syrian teenager, changes his daily routine as airstrikes on his city increase. When his home is hit by a bomb that kills most of his family in one day, Tareq is suddenly a refugee, traveling with his father and one surviving younger sister, Susan, to another Syrian town, then out of Syria to Turkey. When life in Turkey offers little hope, Tareq’s father sends him and Susan to make the treacherous trip to Greece by water. Through incredible dangers and suffering, they meet refugees and aid workers from across the globe. Abawi integrates just enough background information into the plot to make the story and characters comprehensible. The narrator is Destiny, whose authoritative voice suits the tragic and dramatic turns of plot. The narrator’s philosophical asides allow readers just enough distance to balance the intimacy of the suffering witnessed along the journey while helping to place the Syrian crisis in global and historical context as part of the cycle of humanity. The direct address challenges readers in a way that is heavy-handed only at the end, but even so it is chillingly effective.
A heartbreaking, haunting, and necessary story that offers hope while laying bare the bleakness of the world Tareq leaves and the new one he seeks to join. (Fiction. 12-18)
Honored to have received a ★ review from Publishers Weekly for the upcoming 'A Land of Permanent Goodbyes' (Jan 23, 2018)
'In this gripping and heartrending novel, Abawi (The Secret Sky) follows a family of Syrian refugees, whose lives are changed when one of the feared “bombs that fell indiscriminately from the sky” destroys their apartment building. Teenage Tareq, his father, and his four-year-old sister, Susan, survive, but his mother, grandmother, and three other siblings die in the blast. All three flee the country, joining the endless stream of refugees desperately seeking safety. Destiny itself serves as an omniscient narrator, a device that helps to buffer readers from the relentless terror, hunger, and danger plaguing Tareq’s family: “To me, you are all from the same world. You have the same hearts, needs, wants and desires.” As the family journeys through Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia on their way to Germany, its configuration varies, most poignantly when Fayed pays smugglers to take his children in a perilously overcrowded boat bound for Greece. Newfound friendships and stories of volunteers pulling refugees from the Aegean provide elements of hope in this upsetting yet beautifully rendered portrayal of an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Ages 12–up. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)'
In the summer of 2015 while visiting my parents in California, my dad opened up a folder to find the birth certificate and medical papers I needed for what I don’t even remember. Among the documents were our refugee papers and old passports—identification cards I was too young to remember receiving.
A few weeks later my eyes were glued to the TV screen as I watched hundreds of thousands of people escaping the Syrian war. They were risking their lives on boats, trekking along the sides of Europe’s busy highways, and pushing strollers and wheel chairs through muddy fields. They were people who only a few years prior lived normal lives in their comfortable homes.
As a former refugee I saw a familiarity that I couldn’t shake. Although my family’s story took place at a different time and started in a different country, the stories seemed almost parallel. My parents had a comfortable life with great jobs in the peaceful Afghan capital they had grown up in – but that all came crashing down at the onset of the Soviet war in 1979. They tried to stick it out, but as the years passed the scarier it became. Both my grandfathers were imprisoned for being army generals under pre-communist leaderships. Even family members within the new government turned on my parents for not embracing communism. To protect their children, my parents finally left.
After their own terrifying and tiresome journey, my parents found refuge first in Germany. My mom was 8-months pregnant with me and my brother was 2-years-old. A year later we were welcomed as refugees to America. Life continued to be difficult but I count my blessings every day for the decision they made and the risks they took. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if they didn’t leave – it never ends happily.
As I watched the Syrians fleeing I felt a pained connection. And when I read and heard the vitriol against them, my heart broke. They were all human beings whose lives had been torn apart and ravaged. They were not people who wanted to leave their country, they were people who were forced to, not just for a better life but for a chance to live.
I wrote A Land of Permanent Goodbyes to humanize the refugee crisis we see today. Like with my first novel, The Secret Sky, I want readers to see beyond the headlines and short video clips. I’ll never forget, and never want to forget, the pain I felt day after day researching this novel – speaking with refugees, witnessing what was happening in Greece, standing in the lifejacket graveyard among thousand upon thousands of lifejackets, each representing a person who took the risk to live. The abandoned baby shoe I brought back home with me sits in my office and I often wonder where the little girl is now. I hope my book can in some way give the reader a better understanding of those who are living the crisis as they relate to the characters. And I hope maybe—just maybe—it will inspire them to do what they can to help or at least understand.
Originally published for Penguin Teen, April 2017
I'm late in sharing the news but my new book 'A Land Of Permanent Goodbyes' was officially announced in December. I can't wait to share more with you! I'm very excited to continue working with my amazing editor Jill Santopolo and the Philomel/Penguin team!
'Abawi Sells YA Novel to Philomel
In a second deal involving Inkwell’s Stephen Barbara, the agent sold world English rights to Atia Abawi’s YA novel A Land of Permanent Goodbyes to Jill Santopolo of Philomel Books. Abawi, a journalist and former Afghanistan-based foreign correspondent for NBC News and CNN, is also the author of The Secret Sky (Speak, 2014), for which she was named a 2014 Publishers Weekly Flying Start. According to Barbara, A Land of Permanent Goodbyes centers on “Tareq, a Syrian teenager who, after losing most of his family in an air strike, begins a harrowing journey with his sister to Europe.”'