The Land between Two Rivers Summary and Reviews

The Land between Two Rivers

Writing in an Age of Refugees

by Tom Sleigh

The Land between Two Rivers by Tom Sleigh X
The Land between Two Rivers by Tom Sleigh
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2018
    272 pages
    Genre: Short Stories/Essays

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Book Summary

Essays on the urgency of our global refugee crisis and our capacity as artists and citizens to confront it.

Tom Sleigh describes himself donning a flak jacket and helmet, working as a journalist inside militarized war zones and refugee camps, as "a sort of Rambo Jr." With self-deprecation and empathetic humor, these essays recount his experiences during several tours in Africa and in the Middle Eastern region once called Mesopotamia, "the land between two rivers."

Sleigh asks three central questions: What did I see? How could I write about it? Why did I write about it? The first essays in The Land between Two Rivers focus on the lives of refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, and Iraq. Under the conditions of military occupation, famine, and war, their stories can be harrowing, even desperate, but they're also laced with wily humor and an undeluded hopefulness, their lives having little to do with their depictions in mass media.

The second part of the book explores how writing might be capable of honoring the texture of these individuals' experiences while remaining faithful to political emotions, rather than political convictions. Sleigh examines the works of Anna Akhmatova, Mahmoud Darwish, Ashur Etwebi, David Jones, Tomas Tranströmer, and others as guiding spirits.

The final essays meditate on youth, restlessness, illness, and Sleigh's motivations for writing his own experiences in order to move out into the world, concluding with a beautiful remembrance of Sleigh's friendship with Seamus Heaney.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [A] beautiful collection from his essay about teaching poetry at universities in Iraq, but his theme is the transformational nature of poetry. ... a uniquely personal take on the responsibilities of the poet and the potential for language to be "a form of care." - Publishers Weekly

"Wry and sharply observed, Sleigh's book bears witness to injustice as it engages in a compelling, humane quest for artistic truth. Provocative and eye-opening work from a dedicated artist." - Kirkus

What happens when a Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award winner puts on a flak jacket and works as a journalist inside militarized war zones and refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East? You get this book, showing the displaced struggling under awful conditions yet remaining hopeful." - Library Journal

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Tom Sleigh is the author of a previous essay collection, Interview with a Ghost, and ten books of poetry, including Station Zed, Army Cats, and Space Walk, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He teaches at Hunter College and lives in New York.

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