The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis
The refugee journey is one often told en masse, its humanity becoming lost in generalisations and ‘othering’, but a new book tells the personal stories of those that flee for safety, those who help them, and those that exploit them.
Author Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian’s first migration correspondent, wrote ‘The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis’ after he travelled across 17 countries along the migrant trail with work last year.
The stories told are of those whom he met during the treacherous journey across deserts, seas and mountains to finally reach Europe – exploring how they came to be there and how they keep going.
But the personal stories are not only about the people fleeing, they provide a much wider scope than typical media coverage of the crisis through getting to know the people who not only help refugees reach their destination but also the people who take advantage of their desperation.
Kingsley covers every aspect of the journey itself – from his experience drinking moonshine with a kingpin smuggler, to walking alongside a pregnant Syrian teacher as she treks through the Balkans.
These honest, informative and compassionate depictions of real and complex human beings, usually make up the headlines as mere numbers, are the core of the book.
Through his coverage of the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II, Kingsley shows that though their physical journey is anything but normal; refugees are in fact just that, normal and relatable people.
“They are doctors, civil servants, electricians and students. People like you and me,” Kingsley wrote.
Many of the greatest stories of the literary world explore the journeys of refugees, though in those works they are often shown as exceptional, awe inspiring beings.
“Some of the grandest works in the literary canon – the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Bible and the Qur’an – present refugees as heroes, prophets or messiahs, whose journeys are among the foundational myths of modern society,” Kingsley wrote.
“In more contemporary books, refugees are simply ordinary people – people with whom we have a shared humanity.
“Yet both approaches essentially point out the same thing: that flight is a phenomenon intrinsic to the human experience,” Kingsley wrote.
In a recent article Kingsley discussed some of the most well-known refugee stories of all time and how they are still relevant today in that being a refugee has always been part of the human condition.
‘The New Odyssey’ was named after Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem ‘The Odyssey’, which, similar to Syrians now, follows Aeneas search for safety across the Mediterranean as he flees war in the Middle East.
He finally finds a home in Italy and founds the dynasty that eventually created the Roman Empire, which shows that the start of European civilisation came somewhat from the story of a refugee.
Of course religious texts that depict refugees as heroic and noble saviours are some of the most famous stories of migration, such as the book of Exodus and the Gospel of Matthew.
“Some European politicians have framed their opposition to refugees as a defence of Christianity. That’s ironic, since the Bible is full of refugees, and at times could be read as a 101 course on how to welcome them,” Kingsley wrote.
Kingsley cites ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier to show how Europe has successfully dealt with large-scale migration, contrary to how today’s refugee crisis is shown as unmanageable.
The Silver Sword follows four young Poles as they try to find their parents in the aftermath of World War II, where 12-14 million people were displaced throughout the continent.
The novel, like all others in Kingsley’s list and his own book, shows how the story of a forced migrant could be any of our stories; how their emotions, quirks and needs are all our own; how they are us in horrible circumstances.
‘The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis’ will be available to purchase in Australia in July 2016.
AMES Australia Staff Writer