The aunt of Alan Kurdi—the Syrian boy whose photographed drowned body sparked an international outcry over the refugee crisis—unravels her story, from her idyllic childhood and immigration to Canada to the horror that unfolded as she sought unsuccessfully to extract her family from war-torn Syria.
Can one family’s personal story return readers to that galvanizing moment of empathy and awakening? That’s the test for Kurdi’s elegant and deeply moving memoir ... This kind of memoir—the third-world innocent transformed into a heroic figure through unimaginable suffering—is a standard of the memoir-industrial complex. Often ghostwritten and tied to foundational campaigns, these earnest and elegantly packaged texts are designed to inspire and sell. While Kurdi’s book has its own didactic moments, the story succeeds by eschewing the impersonal language of good intentions for something more visceral. Kurdi is rarely kind to herself. She neglects her career and family as she campaigns to bring her siblings to Canada as refugees ... These are some of the book’s strongest sections with its most devastating revelations. For Kurdi, the asymmetry between her divided selves—a life of privilege in Canada and her family’s suffering in Syria—becomes too much to bear ... Kurdi’s memoir proves that in an age when images and headlines vanish as fast as they appear, long-form writing in the first person remains a powerful stand against forgetting. This is an accomplished and searing political memoir—one woman’s poignant and pointed eulogy for a nephew who deserved more than passing notoriety as the 'boy on the beach.'
In The Boy on the Beach Kurdi vividly, nostalgically and poignantly documents (with the instrumental aid of writer Danielle Egan) how she was compelled to respond to the politically created tragedy that robbed her family and so many others of young lives ... Not surprisingly, a recurrent theme of The Boy on the Beach is that of cultivating awareness, rousing the international community at all levels to build sustainable and productive solutions to the world’s ever-growing refugee problem ... Kurdi reinforces the inescapable truth that as long as fellow human beings are displaced in their millions by callous, cruel and incompetent fake governments, the rest of the world will be challenged to share its available resources with them. The Boy on the Beach is one of the most compelling narratives you’ll ever read in support of basic human dignity.
The last third, in particular, feels like an extended advertisement for Tima’s new charitable foundation, which is the only slight knock against the book. However, this memoir deftly weaves its chronology together, giving Western readers an idea of what Kurdi’s family gave up — both positive and negative — in deciding to become refugees, how they struggled to make ends meet, and how they have the hint of hope that war will be over eventually, and some sense of normalcy will return to Syria ... The Boy on the Beach made me realize that systemic injustice prohibits them from meeting their basic needs — but that refugees also can be as resourceful as anyone else. So the book does make readers want to do something more for these hardworking people ... The book also works as a personal journey ... The Boy on the Beach should reawaken readers to the fact that the word refugee does not equate to the word terrorist, and, for that and other things, this book is — fortunately or unfortunately, you decide — necessary reading.