By Nikki Jacob
I’m not going to try and fight the cliché of crying at the end of a Khaled Hosseini novel and would rather embrace this predicament and relish his masterpieces. And if there is a book that has torn me apart yet somehow also made me feel whole, it’d be his debut novel The Kite Runner. But all expectation crumbled into a numb spirit when I recently read his latest literary fiction- Sea Prayer.
The short, gorgeously illustrated book is a Syrian father’s letter to his son, Marwan. A country now rife with war and destruction, was for the father, a place of solace, where the only noise and havoc that the people were accustomed to came from the busy souks. Syria was his identity and his comfort- it was where he felt secure and loved. The memories of his childhood are filled with nature, family and the joyous ‘clanking of cooking pots’, community and acceptance, and even the smell of ‘fried kibbeh’.
These lines help me reminisce my own early years. My mind doesn’t cease to replay the rush that came from hiding behind doors, or falling off of the bike- but all in the name of fun and games.
Because for Marwan, hiding behind doors meant survival.
You have learned that mothers and sisters and classmates can be found in narrow gaps between concrete, bricks and exposed beams…
Not just him, ask any child of the present-day war-torn countries what emotion they’d derive from the word ‘childhood’, and it would sound like an excerpt from a ridiculous, gory tale. The stateless Rohingya babies and the new-borns abandoned in the hospitals of Yemen would probably never know the joy of riding a bike with no trainer wheels attached or just… craving an ice cone and even receiving one. But, what they would know too well is their constant state of physical pain and fear. The Syrian children dream to make it to school and back home without being killed. They sit in classrooms that are overpowered by the sound of death outside the windows. They run in groups to the stores, jumping over debris from a night that nobody wants to remember, hoping they’d all make it back home in one piece. For some children, home is a distant reality.
That’s what Sea Prayer has so beautifully, yet heartbreakingly depicted throughout as poetry and intense illustration. In his letter, the father paints a surreal picture for his son whose only memory of Homs, Syria will be that of protests and bloodshed.
…you have learned dark blood is better news than bright.
The land that once thrived on hope has now taken deep roots of despair- and with each page turned I was left with a diminishing sense of that word hope. With brevity, Hosseini paints a grim picture of a world torn by war.
First came the protests.
Then the siege.
The skies spitting bombs.
The book doesn’t use extravagance to tug at your heartstrings. The minimal but vivid illustrations by Dan Williams succinctly encapsulate the tragic transition from a peaceful Syria to one under siege. Each water-coloured page is a work of art in itself and subtly shifts from a dreamlike world with colour to a deep, sombre one with hues in monochrome.
Sea Prayer is dedicated to Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while his family was trying to reach Europe and to the many refugees who were forced to flee from their world and lives and died at sea.
Nevertheless, Marwan’s father ends the letter with hope- the only word that makes their fight for justice and survival worth every loss of their loved one. There may never be the right answers for all the questions asked out of helplessness, yet faith triumphs over them. And maybe one day, after the war ceases, these children will grow up to blind the nations with their radiant versions of these unanswered questions. Till then, hope will be their anchor.
The publisher of Sea Prayer, Bloomsbury will donate 1 pound from every sale of the book to the UN Refugee Agency which is dedicated to supporting the people who are forcibly displaced, around the world.
Nikki Jacob is a 25-year-old who loves dogs, the moon, and anything that has everything to do with minimal humans involved.