Eighteen year old Amneh and Mohammed, 22, could make beautiful music together if only they were living in the peaceful Syria where they grew up instead of the bleak and impoverished, Jordanian provided refugee camp, Za’atari.
If Za’atari by moonlight is more attractive than sunlit Za’atari, it is only because the darkness hides the harsh realities of makeshift shelters, community toilets and the publicly visible clotheslines that typify the loss of privacy and dignity the refugees lost when bombs and gunfire drove them from their Syrian home.
The primary question the refugees all face is, " Shall we do our best to get on with our "normal" lives, or is "normal" only something we left behind and hope to return to someday? How a family answers that question determines whether they pursue education, business, or social connections or defer the major events and accomplishments that make up life: preparing for the future, schooling, career preparation, building relationships, marriage and childbirth.
Amneh's and Mohammed's families decide they have delayed their marriage long enough. They face the fact that they will not have the extended, extravagant festivities they so enjoy, and rent a lovely wedding dress from the ramshackle bridal shop and make plans to prepare the best meal they can on their one-burner camp stove.
I couldn't help but think of Fiddler on the Roof and Anne Frank as I read this documentary account of Syrian life in a refugee camp. Their Jordanian benefactors offer basic shelter, and donations from other nations provide the minimum allowance of calories needed to maintain life. But, as the Za’atarian villagers know, "normal" is a relative term and truly, "There is no place like home."
I didn't give this book a 5 star rating to measure it's enjoyment factor. Three stars given for how interesting it is, and 1 star is to indicate the importance of its message. The 5th star is a medal of honor for the courage and strength it takes for these people to persevere. They deserve far more, but like resources in Za’atari, those are all the stars I have.