Tag Archives: Andrew Donkin

Refugee reads

The other night, I was suddenly reminded of Anne Holm’s I Am David. This lovely, lovely story has always been on my ‘journey book’ list. But it is also a refugee kind of story. And worth reading again.

I won’t lie. A publisher presented me with a list of their refugee books, and many of them are excellent. But I will let my mind wander of its own here, and see what I come up with. It will probably mean I forget a really important one, but…

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr. I see from the comments that Judith wanted a cuckoo clock. It brings a whole more human scale to the refugee issue.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles, told by Enaiatollah Akbari to Fabio Geda. Enaiatollah who’s a real refugee, but who was also refused a visa to come to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Oh, those fears that everyone will want to come and live here illegally…

Like the poor souls we meet in Eoin Colfer’s and Andrew Donkin’s Illegal. All that suffering.

Life in refugee camps is no picnic, and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is a hard read. Necessary, but harrowing. Or you can read books by Elizabeth Laird and the Deborah Ellis stories from Afghanistan.

In No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton the refugees have arrived, but don’t know if they will be allowed to stay. You need to adapt, but with no guarantee that it will be worth it.

A Candle in the Dark by Adèle Geras is almost happy by comparison. It’s Kristallnacht and Kindertransport territory, but when we read that book we believed we were improving year by year. Yes, it was bad back then, but no more…

Like the true story told by Eva Ibbotson, by one refugee about another. Still makes me want to cry.

Illegal

I must begin with part of the same quote by Elie Wiesel that Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin use in their graphic novel Illegal; ‘no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. … How can a human being be illegal?’

There was never a more important time to remember this than now. We believed we had moved on, learned something. Even that we were fairer and more aware than we (or ‘people’) were decades ago.

Illegal is a disturbing graphic novel about two brothers from Africa trying to reach Europe, for a better life, and hopefully to find their sister who left first.

Giovanni Rigano, with Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Chris Dickey, Illegal

Anyone who says our immigrants come for the easy life of ‘our’ benefits is ignorant. These people work so hard. So very hard, because they need to earn enough money to pay the people-smugglers who put them in unseaworthy vessels and send them out to sea, to drown, or hopefully reach land on the other side.

And when [if] they arrive, they hope to be allowed to stay, and they will look for work. And they will work.

In a way the story about Ebo and his big brother Kwame is not new at all. I’ve read similar tales over and over in books like this, or in the newspapers. But as a graphic novel the horror becomes more apparent, because you see what they are going through. Where they came from, what the – usually very long – journey was like, and the horror of fearing for your life trying to get to a place where they are not welcome or wanted.

This is a beautiful book, with illustrations by Giovanni Rigano and a story told by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, and lettering by Chris Dickey. Or it would be beautiful if the pictures could tell a sunnier story. Instead we see these two boys and their fellow travellers being cheated, robbed, threatened and even turned back when they’ve tried for so long. And after that come the boats, small inflatable ones or big ships overcrowded to the point of sinking.

Some people make it safely all the way. Many don’t.

It’s so easy to root for Ebo and Kwame, but whether or not they are successful, there are countless others who never will be.

I hope the fact that this is a graphic novel will mean that the book can reach readers who might otherwise not read this kind of thing, or learn the truth about our world. A world where a drowning mother might well thrust her little baby into the arms of a young boy who can barely swim, in the hopes of saving her child.

No benefits in the world can make up for this kind of experience.