Nine stories and a poem on the theme of seeking refuge being sold to raise funds for The Refugee Council in support of refugees. The stories focus on the human stories behind the statistics and (negative) media headlines, focusing on the impact of circumstances that displace people and the tales both of those people displaced and the reactions of those dealing with the displaced.
Beverley Butcher’s “This is Britian” is a ‘what if’ story, here what if those who are against Britian supporting refugees had to come with suddenly becoming refugees if Britain was bombed. It sets up the questions and lets readers draw conclusions. Brett N Wilson’s “Long” looks at the resilience of humans in desperate circumstances – here starved gulag prisoners being moved in a human chain by guards just as butalised by the system as the prisoners – and how bonds between men can still be formed. David Beckler’s “The One That Got Away” is set in a war-torn country and focuses on fisherman Karim who’s had his trawler stolen by bandits so is reduced to a smaller boat and smaller catches, and witnesses dinghies overloaded with refugees washing up on the shore. His resentful wife, Eisha, blames the refugees for all her woes and refuses to take care of an orphaned baby Karim rescues. Thankfully a neighbour steps in. Then bandits storm Karim’s small boat. Threatened with the complete loss of his livelihood, Karim faces a choice, does he follow his wife’s lead or does he retain his humanity?
This is a similar choice to that faced by Nikos the bartender in Ros Davis’s “End of the Season.” Set on Kos, it explores the reactions of locals to the arrival of refugees and the resulting impact on the tourist industry; people fearful of losing their own jobs and means to provide for their families are forced to accommodate those who have already lost far more. Rosie Cullen’s “No Room to Dance” explores a different angle on a family accommodating a refugee seen through a child’s eyes when Jenny is resentful that she has to share her toys with Zofia but Zofia is not forced to share her music box. This resentment grows when the box is broken and her father undertakes the painstaking task of repairing it. Jenny faces a lesson she’ll never forget.
An attempt at solidarity backfires in Paul Arnold’s “I Know How You Feel” when Ethel, a Liverpudlian social butterfly, travels to New York in the 1930s, a place she falls in love with, and tries to help at a homeless shelter. In contrast, small acts of kindness go a long way in B E Andre’s “Fruitellas” when a teacher puts her job on the line to reach out to a refugee at her school. Compare and contrast is the theme in Cliff Chen’s “Life Exchange” which looks at the persepectives of a Trinidadian in Galway and a tourist in Trinidad. The final story, Ricki Thomas’s “Those Who Sell the Guns”, an adult looks back at war through a childhood experience which saw her moved from Tehran to England without a father, and the current situation where war is creating refugees again and history seems to be repeating itself.
Brian Bilston’s “Refugees” is a speculum or verbal mirror image poem designed to create a second view of a situation by presenting the lines from the first half of the poem in reverse. The first half ends “Build a wall to keep them out/ It is not okay to say/ These are people just like us/ A place should only belong to those who are born there/ Do not be so stupid to think that/ The world can be looked at another way.” Rather than presenting the poem in reverse, the reader is instructed to read the poem backwards. The first version presents a cynical “we should look after our own first” viewpoint, the second takes a humanitarian view. Unfortunately, in my copy, the poem was presented with some of the lines on a right hand page and the remainder on the left so reading it involves flipping a page back and forth.
“The Road More Travelled” is a coherent, compassionate anthology exploring all aspects of issues surrounding refugees: what causes people to flee their homes, the dangers of the journey ahead of them, survival during that journey and how they are met and treated on arrival. The stories do not dictate or manipulate a response from the reader, but allow their narrators to present their tales. This in particularly effective in the stories told with a child narrator who does not fully comprehend the implications of what is happening. The characters met are memorable with a life beyond these pages. There is humour. “The Road More Travelled” does acknowledge difficult themes and circumstances but focuses on compassion and humanity, not gloom and despair.