Escape from Syria, written by Samya Kullab and illustrated and colored by Jackie Roche and Mike Freiheit, is a graphic novel following the journey of a girl and her family from their home in Syria to a refugee camp in Lebanon to resettlement in Canada.
When the novel opens, Amina is returning home from school, where she got an A on a test, thinking about what she wants to be when she grows up. We don’t find out, however, because that’s when the bombing begins.
Her immediate family is spared injury, but their home has been destroyed. “After the explosion, Dad said all was lost. We had to leave.” They gather what they can, and Amina is a little reassured when her father tells her that “it will only be for a little while.”
The novel then jumps back and forth in time, showing snippets of their life under Assad (fearful) and their resettlement in Canada (difficult) while telling the story of their journey after the explosions in Aleppo.
I like that while giving a big-picture, comprehensive view of what a refugee’s journey might look like, this book does have a focus—the reality of life in the refugee camps. Among other things, it describes
- the presence of loan sharks in the camps who take advantage of people’s desperation, charging high interest rates and using paid muscle to enforce payment
- families encouraging girls as young as nine to marry, in an effort to protect them from sexual harassment
- the exorbitant visa fees charged by the Lebanese government (A $200 fee to renew visas each year in Lebanon meant that many stopped renewing their visas, lost their legal residence status, and had to keep a low profile. It also meant that others would risk crossing the Syrian border in order to re-enter Lebanon and renew for free.)
- the reluctance of many to go too far away from Syria (They hoped the war in Syria would be over soon and they would be able to return.)
This book masterfully combines a humanizing story with enough information to give readers a basic understanding of the situation. This is done in two ways. The first is the presence of maps and other visual guides throughout the text, and the second is a section of blind notes at the end of the book. These notes provide more information about some of the topics mentioned, including explanations of Arabic words, cultural notes, and detailed historical backgrounds.
I really enjoyed the art in this. It captures emotion really well, and in spite of the jumps in time, presents a clear and easy-to-follow narrative. I should warn readers that this book does depict some considerably graphic scenes, including a row of heads on spikes.
I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an introduction to the Syrian refugee crisis.