Refuge is a collection of lyric essays about a young woman's life as a budding writer and an international development and aid worker. Spanning twelve years and multiple continents, it focuses in large part on her advocacy and theater work with refugees.
As a creative writer, activist, educator, and humanitarian aid worker, Holden’s life is a prismatic tapestry of moods, relationships, travel, and culture. In a collected series of essays and anecdotal meditations, she chronicles the many paths her travels have taken her, including time spent as an art model, crossing the border from Turkey into a Syrian 'war zone' camp, and in Northern California, where she lives with her cousin ... A chronicle of the author's global interactions ... Overall, the collection is poetic and entrancing, and the author’s experiences are deep and affecting. Though her travels may not personally affect every reader, her sensorial imagery of them will be contemplated with artful appreciation.
Ming Holden’s essay collection is an experiment. Equal parts essay, memoir, and poetry, with a dash of fiction, Refuge: A Memoir bends genre to immerse readers into the lives of the refugees and political exiles Holden has worked with throughout her life. From Syria to Kenya to China, Holden explores the circular, repetitive trauma that refugees and political exiles experience ... Refuge lacks a traditional structure and it works. Holden’s demands that the reader confronts the reality of the violence. Instead of following her experiences in chronological order, the narrative weaves in and out of past and present, timelines blur, traditional structures are lost—there are gaps. 'I fundamentally believe,' Holden writes, 'there is no thesis statement for rape'. That is to say, there is no thesis statement for trauma. With violence, after all, traditional structures crumble. Logic is lost.
The book is a memoir in ten sections. Each section is organized around a different geographic location and the idea of 'refuge': where people find it, how they make it, and where it takes them. At times, this means that Holden’s work with refugees is centralized. At others, it’s her own interior work that’s brought to bear ... Structurally, these sections work like long-form essays that move with freedom back and forth between the experiential and the theoretical, exposition and lyrics. Some passages are gut-wrenchingly memorable; others treat the audience as an artifact rather than the purpose. Often, the work is radically moving because of this, but what presents as a strength in many sections is interruptive and distancing in others.