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City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the…

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp (2016)

by Ben Rawlence

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Powerful book on the Dadaab refugee camp for Somalis driven out of their country into Kenya because of drought and war. Yet this huge refugee camp in the desert is inhospitable in so many ways--corruption, lack of jobs, brutality and yet refugees come and come and come. Rawlence tells the stories of 9 inhabitants who struggle desperately--their reasons for being there, their life while there, and what happens to each--he also turns over his profit from the book to helping them. Youth leader becomes disillusioned, young teacher gets the education she needs to perhaps survive, etc. Rawlence also analyses the AID programs, the UN programs, and the Kenyan government, the Somali smugglers--all keeping these refugees poor, starving, and with no options. The book has no pollyanna ending as the struggle continues. ( )
  flashflood42 | Mar 21, 2017 |
The stories of the inhabitants of the largest refugee camp in the world was heartbreaking. Whole generations that have been born in the camps and know no other way of life, with no "home" to go back to, either ravished by war or famine. This was a harrowing look at the limited opportunities available to the youth of the Dadaab camp, as well as the dangers and sub-standard living of day to day camp life. ( )
  BrittanyLyn | Jun 22, 2016 |
reviewing a book like this can be a tricky prospect as there are two issues to consider: the importance of the material; and the quality of the writing.

on the first count, rawlence has given readers an important and necessary work. on the second count, i found the style inconsistent and, at times, difficult to follow. not because the language was hard or inaccessible (though he does, periodically, like to throw out $5 words which end up sticking out like sore thumbs, heh), but because of how the story jumps around from person to person, place to place. (and, usually, i don't have trouble with non-linear timelines, and multiple characters or people.) there is, of course, a chaos to the lives and situations, so in that sense the style of the book is an accurate reflection.

i am wondering about format. i read this as an e-pub (nook). there were a few maps at the beginning of the book which were great, but i couldn't zoom in or out on them. there were no other images included. and that may sound like a silly thing to criticize, but i do think it would have helped this book a lot with context and putting the reader in the camps. (i feel there could have been a way to do this while protecting the privacy and security of the 9 featured people.) and images are an aspect of nonfiction reading i always enjoy. i am going to investigate the paper edition at the bookshop.

i didn't learn a lot of new information from this book, so if you tend to have an interest in and concern about international politics and humanitarian crises, it may feel familiar to you. but i am glad i read this book. i think that by featuring specific individuals rawlence helps breakdown the overwhelming and heartbreaking problems of the refugee camps, and makes it all more relatable and accessible. i'm just bummed the reading didn't flow better. something i would have liked included in this book is an approach to solutions, or an examination of what needs to happen to offer hope and a safe, stable way out to the hundreds of thousands of people living in a dangerous and threatening limbo. (and i hope none of this sound flip. i have so much worry and empathy for refugees, and all they endure and survive. it is often frustrating to feel helpless and useless because of governments or NGOs, and their ingrained (corrupt and broken) systems prevent progress or solutions, under the guise of 'we are helping.')

so - this is an emotionally tough read at times and, understandably, hope is difficult to find. but it is there. ( )
  Booktrovert | Mar 27, 2016 |
More proof that the people who control your food supply ultimately control you. ( )
  dele2451 | Feb 19, 2016 |
This book looks at the lives of several people who live in Dabaab, a large refugee camp located in a desert in Kenya. The book describes how many of these people came to live there, what their lives were like once there and how the nation of Kenya, as well as the rest of the world, views and treats them. The author combines events from the world with the things that happened in Dababb in a highly readable and understandable way. While I had some doubts about this book when I first picked it up, I have gained a great deal of knowledge and understanding concerning this area of the world from this author’s perspective. The author is a great storyteller. ( )
  Susan.Macura | Feb 6, 2016 |
Showing 5 of 5
It is a portrait, beautifully and movingly painted. And it is more than that. At a time when newspapers are filled with daily images of refugees arriving in boats on Europe’s shores, when politicians and governments grapple with solutions to migration and erect ever larger walls and fences, it is an important reminder that a vast majority of the world’s refugees never get as far as a boat or a border of the developed world. They remain, like the inhabitants of ­Dadaab, in an indefinite limbo of penury and fear, unwanted and largely forgotten.
Rawlence’s account of this febrile life is nothing short of superb. His City of Thorns seems to be modelled on Katherine Boo’s insta-classic Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, and although Rawlence doesn’t quite possess Boo’s prose chops or mordant wit, he does compete round for round on embed and empathy. The detail he weaves into his nine intersecting narratives is so meticulously observed that his notebook stack must have resembled Tanzania’s not-so-proximate Mount Kilimanjaro. This is Refugees for Grown-ups – there are no pat bumper-sticker lines or cutesy take-aways, but a clear-eyed assessment of the immense, transformative migration that is leaving no corner of the Earth unchanged.
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