In ″Under the Tokyo Skytree″, Japanese novelist Masatsugu Ono foregrounds another ideal refugee, this one from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Massamba Mangala, a teacher and activist, was forced to flee his country. Although he initially has no English or Japanese, he manages to become beloved of a wide network of Japanese supporters.

Syrians appear even in this essay, as Ono suggests Syrians fleeing their country couldn′t possibly have had as difficult a time as Mangala.

Things shift radically in the essay that follows, ″Fragments from the Life of the Spectacular Victim″, a sharply satirical work written in English by Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran. She turns the idea of the ″perfect refugee″ inside out.

Imperfect victims... and those who refused to leave

Temelkuran had intended to profile a refugee in Istanbul. However, that refugee disappeared. Not long after, Temelkuran herself was forced to disappear, fleeing Istanbul for Zagreb. So Temelkuran turns her pen to her own feelings about exile. She notes with irritation that a page on the UNHCR website titled ″Refugees Who Have Made a Difference″ has ″only twenty profiles listed. ″ And what of the millions of others?

Temelkuran writes about how she feels while speaking at events: ″Like a refugee waiting for a piece of bread with a stupid ticket in her hands, I should be ready to perform my victimhood whenever the act is called to the intellectual stage.″

Temelkuran is ambivalent about having fled Turkey, fearing she has done so ″too soon″. Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa, meanwhile, writes about refusing to leave home no matter what. In ″The Refugee: Living in a Void″, translated by Jonathan Wright, Khalifa explains why he won′t leave Damascus, even as the city empties of his family, friends and neighbours.

Other essays contextualise other refugee struggles: Mohammad Hanif writes about the Hazara people in Pakistan; Nigerian novelist Abubakar Adam Ibrahim writes about the traps that await those fleeing Boko Haram; Kenyan-Somali reporter Abdi Latif Dahir writes about Dadaab, the ″world′s largest refugee camp″, with a population larger than some small countries; and Salvadoran author Juan Jose Martínez D′Aubuisson crafts a compelling portrait of those fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. Here, the warring groups aren′t North and South, or different religious sects, but the futuristically named gangs MS-13 and B-18.

According to publisher Jethro Soutar, proceeds from the book will be donated to Refugees International. At the launch of the book′s German edition, an event was hosted in Germany. A launch event had not yet been scheduled for the English edition.

″Alas,″ Soutar said, ″I don′t see the subject losing relevance any time soon.″

Marcia Lynx Qualey

© 2017

More on this topic