In the words of its native son, Dr. Pietro Bartolo, the Italian island of Lampedusa is 'a small piece of the earth’s crust that broke off from Africa and drifted toward Europe.' In recent years, its path across the sea has been traced by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East who land in Lampedusa on their way to Europe ... From his post on Favoloro Pier, Bartolo awaits them — sometimes treating them for conditions contracted on these brutal journeys, sometimes preparing their bodies for burial ... But he does not look away, and he does not let us look away, either ... It is rare to read about the life of someone like Bartolo in his own words. The journalist Lidia Tilotta, listed as a co-author of Tears of Salt, did a fine job of preserving the tone of the doctor’s stories, arranging them in 32 short, plain-spoken sections.
Pietro Bartolo runs the sole medical clinic in his homeland of Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island 70 miles off the coast of Tunisia that has become the gateway — and graveyard — for an unending stream of refugees trying to escape the varied horrors confronting them in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Bartolo’s Tears of Salt, written with Italian journalist Lidia Tilotta, is equal parts memoir, celebration of his birthplace and report from the front. Above all, though, it is a plea for compassion ... But it’s not the massive numbers that give Bartolo’s account its emotional impact — it’s the attention he focuses on individual survivors... Bartolo tells many such stories of courage and sacrifice.
You would think that this [the unfortunate events that've happened to the refugees] would make Bartolo’s brief memoir, Tears of Salt (written with Lidia Tilotta), almost unreadable and, in fact, there is much in this book that is hard to process. Yet I would argue that it’s a work not to be missed ... Not only does Bartolo shake the world’s complacency...but he also limns his narrative with great compassion and humanity ...Bartolo’s book serves as a powerful reminder of a very different kind of human response. His passionate advocacy on behalf of the flood of strangers continually showing up on his shores is deeply moving. One can only hope that it will prove contagious.
... a compelling memoir of Bartolo’s life and work, an intimate portrait of the unremitting refugee crisis and a man with a message: 'We can’t and we won’t be governed by our fears' ... The book’s straightforward style evokes the clinic’s persistent tide of death and life, setbacks and progress. Each chapter’s laser-like focus reflects the doctor’s single-minded approach to his calling, making each tale distinct from, yet connected to, the rest of the book. Despite the complex subject matter, the translation of Tears from the original Italian uses clear, accessible prose to capture the immediacy of Bartolo’s work and life ... At a time when the global refugee crisis is frequently reduced to intellectual debate, Tears of Salt is worth reading, perhaps less as a literary work and more for its personal narrative, which reveals the human side of suffering through the life of one man.
'This book is an eyewitness account, put down on paper, just as it is, black and white, without filters or embellishment,' writes co-author Tilotta. Interspersed with vignettes of tragedy and occasional hope is the doctor’s own story, how the son of island fishermen returned home with a wife and a medical degree and how he has needed to be all things to all people in the decades since ... Though the chronological hopscotch makes it more like a scrapbook collection of memories than a cohesive narrative, there is great hope and poignancy here.
In this moving account of attending to victims of war, Italian physician Bartolo makes an impassioned plea for more public awareness of and effective humanitarian solutions for refugees from Africa and the Middle East ... Bartolo, writing with Italian journalist Tilotta, doesn’t shy away from discussing the toughest of situations and gives voice to the many nameless refugees who, in their native countries, were victims of racism, rape, sex trafficking, illegal organ harvesting, and sexual dismemberment; he also tells the stories of many others, whose bodies were found in boat holds or floating off shore ... Equating the refugee crisis with the Holocaust, he has written a powerful condemnation of public inertia to foreign tragedies that brings home a truly arresting 'chronicle of suffering.'