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By narrating the story of 19-year-old Doaa Al Zamel, Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), puts a face to the millions of refugees who have fled their homelands. 

At a time when “worldwide wars, conflict, and persecution had forced more people to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere than at any other time since people began keeping track of the displacements,” Doaa and her family fled the current war in Syria to Egypt. Though Syrian refugees were initially welcomed there, the changing political climate resulted in an upsurge of discrimination against them. Doaa and her fiancé, Bassem, decided to leave for Europe, handing over their life savings to smugglers who promised them safe passage.

On the third attempt to leave Egypt, Doaa and Bassem were loaded onto a decrepit fishing boat along with 500 other refugees, including 100 children. After four days at sea, when freedom seemed to be within reach, the boat was rammed by another vessel piloted by antagonistic men intent on drowning the refugees.

The fishing boat sank, and only a few refugees survived. Doaa was able to stay afloat in a small inflatable water ring. Desperate parents brought three children to her. Only two were rescued with Doaa four days later. Only one child lived.

This harrowing story of one refugee’s experience leads author Fleming to ask this question and many others, “Why did Doaa have to risk her life, lose her fiancé, and witness the death of five hundred others to finally arrive at this place of refuge and opportunity?”

Though A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea includes numerous accounts of unimaginable cruelty and hatred, it also contains many stories of kindness, compassion, and generosity. (Flatiron Books)

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