Rarely do I read a book and immediately wish I could gift the whole world a copy. It happened with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists (fortunately I can at least forward everyone a link to the TED Talk) and it’s happened again with The Displaced*. Edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Displaced is a collection of essays by refugee writers.
I initially reviewed a sample of the book ahead of its April release (check it out here) and was genuinely moved by the incredible accounts. Now I’m back shouting about it again for the 20th UK Refugee Week and World Refugee Day.
There are an estimated 65.6 million people displaced worldwide (Source: Student Action for Refugees). This figure includes 22.5 million refugees, an estimated 40.3 million ‘internally displaced people’ (those who have left their home but have not crossed an international border) and 2.8 million asylum seekers. This amounts to the number of new displacement equivalent to 20 people being forced to flee their homes every minute of 2016. There have been 10.3 million people newly displaced last year alone. 51% of refugees are children under the age of 18.
A refugee himself, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s introduction to the anthology reiterates the need to humanize the refugee experience whilst also encouraging readers to go beyond reading the accounts.
“We need stories to give voice to a writer’s vision, but also, possibly, to speak for the voiceless. This yearning to hear the voiceless is a powerful rhetoric but also potentially a dangerous one if it prevents us from doing more than listening to a story or reading a book. Just because we have listened to that story or read that book does not mean that anything has changed for the voiceless. Readers and writers should not deceive themselves that literature changes the world… literature does not change the world until people get out of their chairs, go out in the world, and do something to transform the conditions of which the literature speaks…
“True justice is creating a world of social, economic, cultural, and political opportunities that would allow all these voiceless to tell their stories and be heard, rather than be dependent on a writer or representative of some kind. Without such justice, there will be no end to the waves of the displaced, to the creation of even more voiceless people, or, more accurately, to the ongoing silencing of millions of voices. True justice will be when we no longer need a voice for the voiceless.”
So what are we gonna do about it?
In celebration of the 20th year of Refugee Week, the festival organisers have put together a list of 20 Simple Acts to help change the conversation about refugees and encourage people to make more connections in their communities.
You could also buy a copy of The Displaced and 10% of the cover price will go to the International Rescue Committee, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing humanitarian aid, relief, and resettlement to refugees and other victims of oppression or violent conflict.
*I was sent a copy of The Displaced for review purposes.
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