‘My children had already lost their home and their education. Had we stayed, they would have been by default raised on weapons and war. The only option was to leave.’ – Hashem al-Souki
Patrick Kingsley untangles the chaotic mess of the refugee crisis across Europe in The New Odyssey as he reports from 17 countries, interviewing migrants and refugees, politicians and policy makers, volunteers and coastguards- even smugglers. In comparing these refugee’s journeys with the scale of Homer’s epic Odyssey, Kingsley does what the majority of the media does not; he gives them credit for their bravery rather than spreading disgust for their desperation. The New Odyssey is the kind of book that makes you want to read paragraphs to whoever is in the room with you, as if repeating sections will make the absurdity of the situation sink in. It’s an addictive page turner that is thrilling until you remember these are real people’s lives.
In 2015 when the Guardian had the foresight to appoint its first migration correspondent, Kingsley had the opportunity to report from all over the world. His appointment has translated into this book, a weight of personal stories, statistics and marathon journeys. He tucks himself into the lives of these refugees to get as close as he can to the reality of this phenomenon, breaking into stadiums where thousands of people are being held, joining a mission with Medecins Sans Frontieres and sleeping rough with border crossers. The vividness with which Kingsley is able to portray through his descriptions comes from throwing himself into these situations as well as his ability to gain the trust of so many strangers.
The story of Hashem al-Souki, a kind and terrified Syrian father wanting to get to Sweden in order to apply for family reunification, dominates The New Odyssey. In rollercoaster terms, Hashem’s story is pretty much Thorpe Park’s Stealth in the speed at which fortune can switch to disaster, and the tension that builds as he gets closer to his end goal. Delicately thought out plans are forcibly rearranged as borders are closed, laws are made and new dangers appear. Kingsley carefully and clearly lays out these changes so that we can keep up and The New Odyssey provides a thorough and intimate explanation of the crisis up until the end of 2015.
None of the stories told here can have a traditional ending, we don’t know if they’ll live happily ever after. But their escape from war torn countries and poverty means that at least people like Hashem can have a chance at a future. As Kingsley’s words drop off the last page, he leaves us wondering what happens when these ordinary people stuck in extraordinary circumstances reach their new destinations, our fingers crossed for them all the way.