Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere has been justifiably longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie 2018. It is about twelve-year-old Omar who has to flee Syria soon after the war breaks out. Born and brought up in Dosra, Omar has four siblings including an older brother, Musa, who despite having cerebral palsy is very sharp. At times when he gets agitated no one can understand what he says except for Omar. The youngest sibling is a two-year-old girl Nadia. Their father works for the Syrian government and is most distressed when civil strife breaks out. He insists on referring to the citizens fighting against the government as “terrorists”. As the war intensifies the family has to cross the international border with Jordan and enter a refugee camp. It is a horrific experience for the family who have to make do in a makeshift shelter, live on the kits distributed by the United Nations and the food is rationed, unless one can afford to buy what is offered in the black market. To realise it is survival of the fittest at the camp, Omar takes the lead to do his best by the family, particularly after his father decides to return to Dosra.
There are descriptions in the book that seem authentic. They ring true. Apparently Elizabeth Laird researched this book thoroughly before writing it. Years ago she had lived in Lebanon during their shattering civil war. She says in the letter by the author that “I saw at first hand how lives were disrupted and families lived in fear”. Later she was invited to Jordan to run writing workshops with teachers and youth trainers in two Syrian refugee camps, Zaatari and Azraq. It was while talking to the refugees that Omar’s story crystallised in her mind.
Welcome to Nowhere is a book that will remain relevant as long as conflict zones exist not just in Syria. This story is meant to be read by young adults and adults alike.
Elizabeth Laird Welcome to Nowhere Pan Macmillan, London, 2017. Hb. pp.
11 March 2018