No Safe Place is my favorite kind of book: one that brings seemingly different characters together and shows that, lo and behold, they are not so different after all. One that illuminates the connections that the characters have, and that, ultimately, we all have.
Deborah Ellis primarily tells the story from Abdul's point of view. Using vibrant details, she follows his journey from war-torn Iraq where he watched his entire family die, to Calais, France where he is a migrant among many, and now on his way to freedom in England. Ellis balances these difficult details with spare prose, giving readers a deep sense of Abdul's experiences while inviting them fill in the spaces with empathy.
The whole novel unfolds in a few short days, and in a small space. This heightens the intensity, and creates a realistic situation in which it makes sense to witness so much emotion and relive the characters' circumstances. The three central characters - Abdul, Rosalia and Cheslav - each explain their history in turn. These flashbacks are carefully placed within the text, after seeing the characters interact in the present, and after feeling the full depth of their present emotions. Because of this, and the multiple points-of-view, the reader is able to draw parallels between the very different situations that led up to this one moment.
The detail, the spare prose style, the compressed time, and the flashbacks in multiple perspectives combine to create a perfectly crafted book. It's an utterly breathtaking read that sheds light on issues that the children of the world face - children in our world and in our time.
Deborah Ellis says of her work, "We have created a world where most children live in some form of war, and I write about them to try to do honour to their strength and courage. I have learned that there is no such thing as 'other people's children.' The world's children are a blessing to all of us. They are also our responsibility."
No Safe Place is a fascinating story that urges us to remember that unless we are all safe, none of us really can be.
This review was originally published in November 2010, and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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