Dina Nayeri was born in Iran. In 1987, when she was 10 years old, Nayeri and her mother and brother joined the growing throngs of Middle Eastern refugees. Although they left in the dead of night and crossed into the Iranian border to Turkey, it was a relatively easy escape that included a 10-month stay in the United Arab Emirates followed by an equally long stay in a hotel-turned-refugee camp in Italy. Through her dentist father’s connections, one plan after another fell into place, and they eventually were given asylum in the U.S. By her own admission, Nayeri’s journey pales in comparison to the thousands who spend years in refugee camps or cross the Mediterranean in overloaded precarious vessels to an uncertain arrival and welcome.
However, it took Nayeri 30 years to gather the courage to write this memoir. During those years, she unearths a collective truth that “grateful” refugees do not want to tell, for fear of seeming ungrateful and even jeopardizing support, contact, or further help in bringing others into freedom.
The memoir begins in Oklahoma where an evangelical Christian family sponsors the trio and helps them to settle in. Nayeri fulfills her dream of attending Princeton. But as the years pass, Nayeri is able to take a step back and begin to reflect on how cultures shape the acceptance and expectations of the refugees they welcome.
Nayeri retraces her family’s steps from escape and waiting to asylum and an eventual goal of assimilation. She weaves her own story with that of many other refugees who she meets along the way and whose stories she seeks out. She ends by asking questions about cultural repatriation and the longing to find the “taste of home.”
Nayeri undertakes this truth-telling in ways that will bring discomfort, shame, irritation, anger, perhaps even denial, and most surely defensiveness. But it is a must-read if we wish to serve with compassion and forthrightness in this global refugee crisis. It might allow us to be more fully the “waymakers” she invites us to be. (Catapult)