Summary and book reviews of The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley

The New Odyssey

The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis

by Patrick Kingsley

The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley
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  • Published:
    Jan 2017, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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Book Summary

In the humane tradition of Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers comes a searing account of the international refugee crisis.

On the day of his son's fourteenth birthday, Hashem al-Souki lay somewhere in the Mediterranean, crammed in a wooden dinghy. His family was relatively safe - at least for the time being - in Egypt, where they had only just settled after fleeing their war-torn Damascus home three years prior. Traversing these unforgiving waters and the treacherous terrain that would follow was worth the slim chance of securing a safe home for his children in Sweden. If he failed, at least he would fail alone.

Hashem's story is tragically common, as desperate victims continue to embark on deadly journeys in search of freedom. Tracking the harrowing experiences of these brave refugees, The New Odyssey finally illuminates the shadowy networks that have facilitated the largest forced exodus since the end of World War II.

The Guardian's first-ever migration correspondent, Patrick Kingsley has traveled through seventeen countries to put an indelible face on this overwhelming disaster. Embedding himself alongside the refugees, Kingsley reenacts their flight with hundreds of people across the choppy Mediterranean in the hopes of better understanding who helps or hinders their path to salvation. From the starving migrants who push through sandstorms with children strapped to their backs to the exploitive criminals who prey on them, from the smugglers who dangerously stretch the limits of their cargo space to the volunteers who uproot their own lives to hand out water bottles, what emerges is a kaleidoscope of humanity in the wake of tragedy. By simultaneously tracing the narrative of Hashem, who endured the trek not once but twice, Kingsley memorably creates a compassionate, visceral portrait of the mass migration in both its epic scope and its heartbreaking specificity.

Exposing the realities of this modern-day odyssey as well as the moral shortcomings evident in our own indifference, the result is a crucial call to arms and an unprecedented exploration of a world we too often choose not to know.

PROLOGUE
Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 11 p.m

In the darkness far out to sea, Hashem al-­Souki can't see his neighbours but he can hear them scream. It's partly his fault. They are two African women – perhaps from Somalia, but now is not the time to ask – and Hashem is spreadeagled on top of them. His limbs dig into theirs. They want him to move, fast, and so does he. But he can't – several people are sprawled on top of him, and there's possibly another layer above them. Dozens are crammed into this wooden dinghy. If anyone tries to shift, a smuggler kicks them back into place. They don't want the crammed boat to overbalance, teeter, and then possibly sink. It is perhaps eleven at night, but Hashem can't be certain. He's losing track of time, and of place. Earlier in the evening, on a beach at the northernmost tip of Egypt, he and his companions were herded into this little boat. Now the boat is who-knows-­where, bobbing along in ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Patrick Kingsley, author of The New Odyssey, tells a hell of a story. And in some ways, it's become the story of our times. There's no way Kingsley could have foreseen the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president when he began to report first-hand the plight of refugees from Syria, Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa and throughout Europe, several years ago. But Trump's headline-making "Executive Order" restricting access to the United States for refugees from certain designated countries has given added prominence to a humanitarian crisis that is engendering wildly different responses from citizens and political leaders around the globe.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

Full Review Members Only (1127 words).

Media Reviews

New Republic

[An] an urgent appeal to humanity and reason…a compelling read.

The Washington Post

[A] a deeply reported account… Kingsley gives a sympathetic and often damning portrayal of the extraordinary risks and efforts that so many refugees have taken to find a new life. He puts a human face on the hyper-politicized refugee crisis while conveying the magnitude of the crisis.

Publishers Weekly

Alternating sections tracing al-Souki's odyssey help keep the reader grounded in the horrifying realities of the tragedy, while carefully chosen details, such as smugglers setting up Facebook pages to attract business, demonstrate how even responses to crisis can become prosaic

Booklist

[The New Odyssey] is deeply engaging, eye-opening, and insightful to the ongoing challenges that refugees face in navigating through these multilayers political and social systems.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A powerful firsthand account of a crisis that will continue to receive even more attention in the years to come.

The Guardian (UK)

"[A] fascinating study…The New Odyssey start[s] to do for the refugees what British abolitionists did for the slave trade. [It] mobilize[s] eyewitness testimony to promote empathy, and through empathy, better policy.

Irish Times (UK)

[One of] the most important books you will read this year…[Kingsley's] experience reporting from the front lines of the crisis gives an unrivaled perspective…powerful.

Author Blurb Philip Pullman
Tremendously impressive…The details are vivid, sometimes shocking, always telling; and the desperation and courage of those such as Hashem al-Souki are profoundly moving. The story of what lies behind the continuing and appalling news from the Mediterranean has rarely been told so strongly.

Author Blurb David Hare
Kingsley is doing the world an invaluable service by showing that migrants are particular and human, not collective and a group, and that each of them - just like us - has a story of their own.

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Beyond the Book

The Odyssey

The New Odyssey brings to mind the original epic with which this book has many parallels. Literary works don't come much more venerable or influential than The Odyssey, a 12,000-line poem written in ancient Greek and composed sometime in the eighth century B.C.E. Granted, it's likely not every contemporary reader's favorite work (although you probably would have felt differently 2,000 years ago, when it was the poem to know). And for those countless generations of students who were forced to read The Odyssey, perhaps the work seemed more like an epic pain than an epic poem, but at least you had the "epic" part right. In fact, it's widely considered the most "epic" work in all of Western literature—perhaps ironic since it's not known ...

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