It started with a single tweet: “I need peace.”
In 2016 seven-year-old Bana Alabed, from East Aleppo, began using the social media platform Twitter to plead for an end to the civil war in Syria. Bana, with help from her mother Fatemah, used a mobile phone to connect with her own community and the world outside. By the time the Alabed family were evacuated to Turkey at the end of that year, Bana’s words were reaching an audience far beyond what she’d ever dreamt possible.
Since then, with over 350,000 followers on Twitter, she’s been the subject of multiple interviews and has been compared to Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani refugee and activist with a similarly prominent international profile.
Dear World knits together Bana’s own recollections with letters from her mother. Fatemah’s passages are integral to the success of the book; in addition to providing context they emphasise the love of family members who remained committed to one another as their previously comfortable lives crumbled around them. These are stories of loss and hope. Bana and her mother begin by sharing memories of life before the fighting started: family dinners, swimming at the local pool, reading about princesses and playing with friends. Until the age of three years, Bana’s life was no different from the lives of countless other little girls across the globe.
The horror of war is amplified when viewed through the eyes of a child. As Bana recalls the sights, sounds and smells of her neighbourhood as it succumbs to bombing, she describes the aftermath of the shelling, the appearance of dead bodies and the way the stench of burning tyres is nothing compared to the unforgettable smell of bodies trapped beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings. What child should be recounting tales of death and destruction? Her local park is transformed from a place of fun into a no-go zone when bodies must be buried there because the cemeteries are full. The unrelenting stress takes its toll. “I was too tired to have hope anymore. I was tired of fighting to stay alive. I thought it might be easier if a bomb came down on us and we didn’t have to live like this anymore.”
Despite the horrors depicted, there is resilience in the ways Bana and her family try to cling to normality—setting up a seesaw in the lounge, filling up a wading pool in the kitchen, delicately slicing a single tomato into five equal pieces to share between them. “We took turns helping each other have hope.” They view their survival as a miracle, when so many friends and neighbours lost their lives.
The child wishes for a world where we welcome those who cannot go home, those who have nowhere else to go. She begs us to share, to listen and to try to understand what others have been through. While there have been questions raised regarding the true identity of the owner of the Bana Alabed Twitter profile, investigations have confirmed that the messages do come from Bana with support from her mother. The reality is that Bana’s story is also the story of hundreds of thousands of other children whose families have been traumatised and displaced by the conflict in their countries.
The Alabed family are now safe in their new lives as Turkish citizens, although one of Bana’s dreams for the future is to return to the country of her birth. Dear World is dedicated to every child who is suffering. Bana’s greatest wish is that her book will raise awareness of the plight of the people of Syria. She continues to call for peace and to reach out to all children who are living with war. She wants them to know they’re not alone.
Reviewed by Jo Vabolis
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: October 2017
RRP: $22 hardcover, $15 trade paperback, $9.99 eBook