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Escape From Aleppo


Escape From Aleppo

In ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO, N.H. Senzai tells the story of Nadia Jandali and her journey from her home country of Syria into the relative safety of Turkey. The city of Aleppo, in which Nadia was born and raised, is caught in the middle of a battle between the authoritarian regime’s military forces and rebel groups attempting to overthrow the government. These rebel groups are not merely against Assad, however; they are also fighting amongst themselves, making the situation even more dangerous. Due to the number of armed men and women with clashing political and religious agendas, innocent civilians are constantly caught in the middle of attacks. Readers learn early on that Nadia was the victim of one such attack, a barmeela (a barrel bomb packed with shrapnel) leaving a scar along the length of her leg.

"ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO is a truly important read that gives an overview of the conflicts occurring in the Middle East through the perspective of a relatable young woman and those she meets on her journey. "

The events of the book begin in 2013, right in the middle of another bombing. The present day narrative only spans four days, but some chapters jump back as far as 2010, giving readers insight into the way life used to be for the Jandali family and how it all started to fall apart. Nadia was a typical 12-year-old girl --- she hated Algebra, loved to watch television shows like Arab Idol and spent a lot of time with family and friends. Clips from the news about protests springing up in surrounding countries show the unrest occurring in the region and set the stage for the violence that ultimately erupts in Aleppo.

After Nadia is separated from her family, she is forced to make decisions about who to trust during her journey to be reunited with her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother. Along the way, readers are introduced to a fierce 8-year-old boy determined to join the rebel forces, a teenager who teaches the true nature of Islam and an elderly man who carries many secrets. The characters all show deep love and commitment to various things: Nadia to her cat and Ammo Mazen’s donkey, Ammo Mazen to the preservation of Syrian art and culture and Tarek to the study of Islam.

Nadia undergoes significant changes throughout this narrative. She starts off as an angry, fearful girl, understandably bitter about what she has gone through and what still lies ahead. She is focused entirely on herself in the beginning, but through her growing concern for Ammo Mazen and her increasing bravery, readers come to see that she has become a humble, sympathetic, patient and grateful young woman. She learns to open her heart to the plight of others, feeling sympathy for the terrible events that have happened to them rather than focusing solely on her own troubles. Despite this growth, she still has some outbursts, which serves to show she is still human and still a young adult. She grows up quickly, but not fully.

This story is filled with beautiful, heartbreaking symbolism and is laced with the feelings of frustration, desperation and familial love felt by all of the characters. The ghost of what was is effortlessly woven into the tragedy of what is. The background given on the issues in the Middle East is not so in-depth that it’s overwhelming, but it’s enough to begin to understand why things are as they are. Also woven into the narrative are the names of desserts, family members and other words in Arabic. This is a nice introduction to the language and culture for readers who are unfamiliar with it.

Overall, ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO is a truly important read that gives an overview of the conflicts occurring in the Middle East through the perspective of a relatable young woman and those she meets on her journey.

Reviewed by Kat Baumgartner on February 26, 2018

Escape From Aleppo
by N. H. Senzai