A thorough explanation on what it is like to be a refugee, Dina Nayeri’s memoir, reflection, investigation considers it from many angles, and offers a balanced voice. With much talk of Hotel Barba, her striving to go to the best university in the States and her clear focus, there is an inspirational aspect to this title, and Dina Nayeri still takes the time to critique herself in the way that she handles her position of being both a refugee from Iran and also having spent three decades in the U.S.
To be a refugee is to wrestle with your place in society, attempting to reconcile the life she knew in Iran with a new, unfamiliar home, and somewhat of a nomadic place. All this while carrying the weight of gratitude in your new home: this expectation that you should be forever thankful for the new space is rife.
Aged only eight, Dina Nayeri fled Iran along with her mother and brother, and lived in the crumbling shell of an Italian hotel-turned–refugee camp. Eventually she was granted asylum in the States. She settled in Oklahoma, and with focus through her Taekwondo, then made her way to Princeton.
In this book, Nayeri brings together her own story finding refuge in the Western world, with stories of other refugees and asylum seekers in recent years. Allowing us into their fragile daily lives and to understand the various stages of their journeys, from escape to asylum and also resettlement. Language of asylum, the language for refugees, and those used by border control is interestingly discussed. Nayeri makes fascinating and broad points, observing this as well as many other aspects of refugees seeking asylum.
Compassionate, vivid and yet balanced, Nayeri’s language and prose is evocative yet considered and makes for an explored read. Nothing here is flattened; nothing is simplistic. She offers a new understanding of refugee life, confronting dangers from the metaphor of the swarm to this notion of “good” immigrants. She brings attention to the harmful way in which Western governments privilege certain dangers over others. With surprising and provocative questions, The Ungrateful Refugee invigorates the conversation around the refugee experience. These are real human stories of what it is like to be forced to flee your home, and to journey across borders to the Western world in the hope of starting anew.
An essential read for anyone making policy on border control and international asylum, it’s significant that Nayeri’s story is itself a more hopeful one, opening the door for this book to be published and providing a great insight into something we privileged in the Western world can simply debate over the dinner table.
The Ungrateful Refugee is available now, published by Canongate