As an immigrant to a Nordic country under very different circumstances, I devoured this. I’m vastly more privileged – I am not a political refugee, although my grandparents and great uncle were, in their day. But the otherness and sameness of this woman’s situation hit home.
As a young student in Iran, she has opportunities that generations before and after her could only dream of: she becomes a medical student.
She wants something longer lasting, and gets caught up in in revolution that turns into a war and a reason to flee, ending up in Sweden.
She makes it out, with her husband, but then she is stranded. She has left her fatherland of sand behind.
… now she’s in the land of water, with her child.
Was it all worth it, she wonders, years later?
Not least since she finds out that she is dying herself, of cancer.
Yet in the end, she is determined not to leave life until the next life comes; her daughter’s daughter, her granddaughter, has to be born first.
This could all sound rather sentimental, but it is not. The narrator is piercingly honest about her own shortcomings, about how she feels, the difficulties of her relationship with her husband and daughter, the distance from her own mother and family “back home”, and the enormous length of time it takes to put down roots in a new place, where she has everything and nothing at the same time. It is not just ‘another’ refugee story, it is also the diary of someone wrestling with terminal illness and acutely aware of the effect that this is having on her nearest and dearest, as well as on herself.
What We Owe, by Golnaz Hashemazeh Bonde, translated by Elizabeth Jane Clark Wessel, deserves your time and attention.
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