Saturday, March 12, 2016

Niko by Dimitri Nasrallah

Though I had ordered this book from the library some time ago, I almost didn't read it since I have read so many refugee stories lately and I wasn't sure I felt like another one.  But I'm glad I decided to go through with it.  The story was written in a very different style than the others.  Firstly, it was written from several points of view - Niko, his father, his aunt and uncle...  Moreover, when the book begins Niko is only about 6 years old so we see the action (particularly the Lebanese civil war and the death of his mother) from the perspective of a child.

After Niko's mother is killed by a car bomb and his father's store is also destroyed, Niko and his father flee Lebanon.  Unfortunately they don't have a very well developed plan and literally drift from Cyprus, to a Greek island to Athens.  When his money begins to run out and the father is unable to renew his passport (it is never totally clear whether this is because of the turmoil in Lebanon or because he is a Palestinian refugee rather than a Lebanese citizen), he sends Niko to Montreal to live with an aunt and uncle who he has never met.  The aunt is his mother's estranged sister, married to a much older man who was her father's employer.

The narrative continues for the next decade or so as Niko is  unable to fit in with his new family and peers in Canada as he holds back a bit in the hopes this is temporary and he will be reunited with his family.  We also see his father struggle to make something of himself before he can get to Niko - he works odd jobs on ships from Marseilles and Libya and eventually ends up in Chile.  But fate intervenes and he is unable to connect with his son for years.

I think this was so interesting as it shows the lengths a father will go to in order to improve his son's life, but how his efforts are at least part in vain because his son feels abandoned by the one person he has come to count on.  It also shows yet again how hard it is to establish oneself in a new country when the comfortable life you used to know is shattered by war.

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