City of Thorns
Author: Ben Rawlence
In City of Thorns, a new book in real-time about the lives of nine refugees in the Dedaab Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya for Somalian and other refugees, Ben Rawlence performs the impossible. Instead of sighing and saying oh who cares? Rawlence steers our attention where our hearts should be. Mesmerizing, moving and monumental, the City of Thorns, a true story of real people puts the people back in What is Happening Over There is Not Important to Me. It brought me right into the arena of poverty, filth, malnutrition, starvation and of That Could Be Me. This is not a book to pick up unless you can read it all the way through; its poignancy delivers a wallop and Rawlence’s prose stays way in the back where it should be without sentimentality or pity. As I have read memoirs about the Holocaust, City of Thorns struck me in the same way: the horror is real when we become the prisoner ourselves. With a national political tsunami in the United States on our hands, this is what could happen to all of us.
The scene in Dadaab Refuge is a chiaroscuro, a black and white palette with no grey in the middle. 60 million people are enclosed in a camp that is as close to a prison camp as possible because their homes and livelihoods were blown up in the Somalian civil wars, along with Allied interventions. The UN supports the camp as no one is allowed to work, supposedly providing food, medicine and shelter, but the camps are tent cities or worse, as the UN rations in the billions are stolen or paid off to politicals as bribes.
We talk about raising fences and borders with our neighbors in the United States, and yet The City of Thorns is what happens when we treat “others” as animals, people like cattle, or even worse.
As Rawlence follows the lives of Muna, Monday (who finally find a way to Australia) and the other seven refugees (Guled, a former child soldier, Nisho, who pushes a wheelbarrow of potatoes to survive, Tawane, a youth leader of the camps that gives everything he has only to be stalked and targeted to die; Kheyro, a students who spends her entire young life studying to get out of the camp and into university, Fish, who flounders – he reveals what life is like in a present day refugee camp that provides a crisis for all who enter in. These people live on the edge, the borders of life for no reason other than they were born Somalians. Author Ben Rawlence, a former researcher for Human Rights Watch, spends four years documenting and living with the people he writes about with fervor and compassion. We are there with no shoes, no clothes, no food, and children who are dying in our arms through Rawlence’s raw lens.
“The Camp, even the weather, are characters of their own…famine. Corruption. Longing. Prayer. All are made almost tangible.” (Cara Anne, Associated Press).
As Rawlence scrambles over the thorns of Dadaab, he carries a large stick as he warns against the counterterrorist corruption and politics provided by global “assistance” while he fights alongside Dadaab….Dadaab can occur anywhere when people lose sight of humanity.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A”
We received a product to facilitate our review. All opinions are our own
- You can pick up this book on Amazon.com here: City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Campor at a bookseller near you.