A Country to Call Home

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From the editor of A Country of Refuge comes an anthology of new writing on one of the defining issues of our time. Focusing on the fate of refugee children and young adults, it is aimed at children and adult readers alike, and features work from Michael Morpurgo, Eoin Colfer, Kit de Waal and Simon Armitage among many others. 

There are tales of home, and missing it; poems about the dangerous journeys undertaken and life in the refugee camps; stories about prejudice, but also stories of children’s fortitude, their dreams and aspirations.

A Country to Call Home implores us to build bridges, not walls. It is intended as a reminder of our shared humanity, seeking to challenge the negative narratives that so often cloud our view of these vulnerable young people, and prevent us giving them the empathy they deserve. 

The book includes newly commissioned stories, flash fiction, poetry and original artwork from some of our finest children’s writers: David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Chris Riddell, Moniza Alvi, Sita Brahmachari, Peter Kalu, Judith Kerr, Patrice Lawrence, Anna Perera, the late Christine Pullein-Thompson, Bali Rai and S. F. Said.


A Country to Call Home
Edited by Lucy Popescu
(Unbound, 256 PP, £9.99)

Probably the most unusual and exceptional book I shall read this year, A Country to Call Home is an anthology of stories and poems on the experiences of young refugees and asylum seekers from ­various countries. The contributions are by established writers, some of whom work with refugees themselves and write of their experi­ences. Put together by Lucy Popescu, the book contains pieces from Michael Morpurgo, David Almond, Anna Perera, Kit de Waal and many others.
These stories will have you in tears, or they will make you very angry, or determined to do more, or numbed by disbelief, or admiring of the strength of the young people portrayed – any or all of these, but they will not leave you unmoved. Many are pitiful, and many show the remarkable resilience of young ­people knowing they have to escape the fear and violence of home.
There is Bali Rai’s tale of Nadia, her mother and little sister already dead, who is left alone when the boat sinks and she sees her Papa slowly slide beneath the waves. In Fiona Dunbar’s story, Kal needs pants. He has no clothes of his own and all he can think about is the joy of clean underwear such as his mother always provided. Sita Brahmachari’s contribution is about 14-year-old Amir Karoon from Iraq, who is walking away from death taking with him only one lemon which he found under their garden wall when looking, without success, for his parents and brother. Amir is taken under the wing of a couple whom he meets on his unbelievably dreadful journey to freedom, and whose own baby dies in the refrigerated lorry in which they are locked by the smuggler who is getting them to England.
Adam Barnard writes of a trip to a country farm with a group of 12 teenage boys, all refugees. He says “… the challenges faced by young refugees in this country are greater and more complex than most of us can ­imagine”. How do these boys, some little more than children, striving to make a life in this country with its alien language and customs, cope with the possibility of being returned to their native lands, where nothing is left for them, not home nor family? Yet this can ­happen to them when they reach 18 and their applications to stay are refused, as is sometimes the case. Helpful as Social Services try to be, they are swamped by numbers as well as by individual needs.
Among the writers Lucy Popescu has recruited to the cause is her own late mother, Christine Pullein-Thompson, best-known for her wonderful pony books, but here recounting the story of Ion who crossed the border on a whim and is now frantic to get back to his home and his grandmother who needs him. Some of the writers, like Moniza Alvi, write from personal experience, but all have been inspired by the appalling news and pictures of recent years.
Another way in which this book is unusual, is that it has been funded by its readers. Unbound is a pioneering group whose website lists ideas for books, and invites contributions to the publishing costs. The result, if enough is pledged, is a well-produced book with the names of the sponsors listed at the back. This crowdfunding, which sidesteps regular publishers, enables the publication of many deserving books which otherwise would never see the light of day. What’s more, as a noble precedent, Samuel Johnson used this method to fund his famous dictionary. Clarissa Burden, TheTablet.co.uk

A Country to Call Home follows Lucy Popescu’s 2016 anthology of writing on asylum seekers, but here the focus is children. Among the contributors are noted children’s and young-adult authors Michael Morpurgo, Eoin Colfer, Bali Rai and David Almond, with poetry by Simon Armitage and Moniza Alvi, among others. Popescu also interviews Judith Kerr, author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, who fled Berlin in 1933 aged nine.

Standouts include the extract from SF Said’s fantasy novel Phoenix and Hassan Abdulrazzak’s “The Good Girl in the All-Terrain Boots”. Kit de Waal’s “Did You See Me?” speaks for the child migrant found drowned in Turkey, whose fate led to this compilation. It’s not all tragedy; there are tales of resilience, humour and sheer childish high spirits.   Suzi Feay https://www.ft.com