Author: Melissa Fleming
"A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea" | In search of light
The heart-breaking reality of the refugee crisis, aptly scripted in this narrative, will remind readers of today’s man-made horrors, writes Prasanna Narayanan
It is said that “Statistics are human Bbeings with the tears dried off”. The refugee crisis all across the globe is not simply about numbers. They are about people whose lives have been torn away from them. In the current times, with millions of refugees struggling to find their place in the world, it is absolutely essential that their stories are told.
Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has been trying to garner support for people who have fled their countries due to wars and persecution through her official position and also through her TED talk episodes. This time, she tells us the story of an extraordinary woman Doaa al–Zamel, who was one of the only survivors of a boat wreck that killed 500 refugees, including her fiancée. This is not just one tale among the million others which have been buried under the rubble or blasted through mortar shells, but a story which both deserves and needs to be told.
The story begins with the description of Doaa’s life in a large and mostly happy family in a small city of Syria. Despite her modest upbringing, she dreams of having a modern education. She along with her fellow Syrians are hopeful that better times lay ahead for their nation under their new, western-educated president, Bashar al-Assad.
She then witnesses the advent of the Arab Spring, the changes in the political structure in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and wonders about her own government. A small act of vandalism invokes a revolution in Syria and unlike the surrounding countries, the result is not a positive transformation but the suppression of freedom and civil rights. Her participation in the protests portrays her as strong, idealistic woman—but as readers, we already know the direction in which the war is headed.
Pushed to the brink of survival, we watch Doaa’s family’s decision to move to Egypt where her life becomes miserably untenable. She and her fiancé then decide to take on the dangerous, but understandable decision to move to Europe to build a better life.
Their boat carrying 500 refugees is attacked by a pirate ship and left to capsize in the Mediterranean. When she is finally rescued after four days, she is found holding two baby girls, none of them are hers. She and one of the babies – and not her fiancée—are two of just the 11 people who survive from the boat.
The narrative of the story moves at a steady pace towards the horrific conclusion. At times, it makes us wish that it was a fiction so that the author could give us a happier ending. Though the book is filled with mind-numbing horror and the vast devastation that the war has left on millions of people—we are left with the image of a young survivor with an indomitable spirit and her immense will to survive.
There are moments in the narrative that will clench at your heart. Especially the parts after Doaa is rescued; and the care and concern shown by her rescuers, makes us believe in the goodness of people and provides us with some hope for the future.
The book is presented from a third person perspective and there are times when we are a bit disconnected with the emotions felt by Doaa. Though I loathe to critic this book, there are times when the author tends to skim over Doaa’s feelings and we are presented with an impersonal account much like a news article. If we could hear her voice, the horror would surely have been a greater force.
At the end of the narrative, we hear Doaa contributing a note of thanks, where she mentions her struggles and the help she received from different people throughout her tumultuous journey.
Finally, this is one book that needs to be read, for the sole reason that it is a tale that is real but is often unheard and forgotten. If “A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea” does help to understand the trials and tribulations of survivors and pushes us towards action, then it would have more than done its work, as simply a book.