It seems so easy; write about what you know, what you have experienced, just a simple little story. Can’t be much to it, can it?
Looking at Elizabeth Laird, you realise that that isn’t true. It takes a lot of talent to write a short children’s novel like Oranges in No Man’s Land, even if she did base it on what she had lived through with her family, in Beirut, many years ago.
And her foreword to this book when it was first published in 2006, was about her own story, and also how sad she was to find history repeating itself, with more unrest for Beirut, thirty years on from when she lived there. Now, of course, there is more sadness still, because after another ten years many more children and their parents are suffering like Ayesha and the others did. Not perhaps in Beirut, but not that far away, either. The destruction and the deaths of innocent civilians happen in far too many countries.
What’s more, if you read Oranges in No Man’s Land and you feel that it isn’t right, what happens to young children and their grannies, or even to their ‘enemies,’ you know that what happens in countless places all over the world is wrong.
You feel that people will learn, that they will change. If I’d been a child reading this in 2006, I’d have been full of hope that things would get better now.
10-year-old Ayesha lives with her mother and grandmother and her two brothers in a small house, when they are bombed and have to flee. Her mother dies before she can get out. The children eventually end up in a bombed out flat, well, part of a room in one, with their granny. And then Ayesha’s granny’s medicine comes to an end and to save her granny’s life the girl has to cross no man’s land and go to the other side of Beirut, where the enemy live.
More than anything, this story shows that mostly people are still human beings, before they are your enemies. They can and will be decent, and they will help, sometimes putting themselves in danger. But you can’t control the warlords.
Elizabeth’s experience is having temporarily lived in a flat like this one, with her young family, and having spoken to the soldiers at checkpoints. That’s why it rings true, and why this is a tremendously powerful story. Short, but it tells you about what’s important for humanity.