I know a lot of teachers follow my blog, and also children read it. This blog post is not for children, please don’t read it to your class, and if you are under 18 please don’t read it.
When I was in Grasmere in The Lake District I worked with a wonderful bookshop called Sam Reads. I went swimming with Polly who works in the shop and writes poetry, and we were housed and wined and dined by the bookshop owners. It was amazing, working with the children at the school there and then doing an event in the evening.
I bought a huge pile of books. There were just so many brilliant books in the shop. One was The Beekeeper of Sinjar by Dunya Mikhail. Was it the cover? I don’t know. Sometimes books choose you. And this week I read the book. It is described as a memoir. On the cover the New York Times calls it ‘A searing portrait of courage, humanity and savagery’.
Dunya Mikhail has done what we all should do. She has listened to the stories of women, survivors, of the terrible wars in the world. She has listened to women, ripped from their homes, with children, whose husbands were slaughtered and buried in mass graves, who were sold into slavery, who suffered abuse, rape, torture at the hands of Daesh. She has made of their stories an account of witness of the worst and the best of humanity, of courage in the face of terror. Having begun to read the book I felt that not finishing it would be an act of betrayal of those lives, those women.
I cannot begin to comprehend the lives of these women. Each story cuts at the heart. How can men do such things? How can other women stand by and watch, even encourage. Mothers, daughters, sisters, children.
I would like to thank Dunya. Her book is an astonishing record, her writing at many times takes the breath away. She is a poet. Her book should be read by all those who make laws and decisions on immigration, on asylum seekers. It should be read by all those who would deal in armaments. It should be read by all of us. Don’t turn away. Read.
There is a review of the book in The Guardian where Peter Stanford expresses what I am trying to say more clearly. There are many heroes in this book. Men who work to free the women enslaved by Daesh, neighbours who help to hide the women when they find the space to run. And all the women themselves, survival in such situations is an act of heroism.
It takes courage to read it, but no where near the courage it takes to live it. And the courage of those who stand up to such people as those who inflict such suffering of others should be recognized. As well as suffering, violence and the worst of human nature written large in this book there is such grace, and beauty too.
When you read this you know, as Warsan Shire states, ‘No one ever leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark’.