... riveting ... a well-wrought portrait of two brothers, Riyad and Bashar Alkasem, and their journeys out of Syria ... Conn pushes beyond simply humanizing the Alkasems; the book portrays Syria and the United States as multifaceted and complex, both capable of generosity and oppression, with histories as interconnected as the brothers’ own ... Conn builds tension slowly and with great sympathy, adding necessary context to clarify political nuances. He alludes to the background of Bashar’s wife, Aisha — also a lawyer — who is more critical of Syria’s government and eventually persuades her husband to leave; Conn describes Aisha’s 'passion, her will to fight' in contrast to her more cautious husband and I found myself wishing her story had been granted more space, especially because she carries much of the emotional weight of the book’s final scenes. Conn keeps the stakes high and the decisions fraught until the very end, when Bashar, his wife and their children plunge into a journey that feels like both the wrong solution for a family that never wanted to leave and the only choice available to them ... As complicated and ever-shifting as their views of Syria and the United States are, the brothers’ affection for Raqqa is unwavering. Conn translates their memories into a resplendent love letter to an obliterated city, where Riyad swims as a boy in the Euphrates and gathers recipes from his relatives, and where Bashar poignantly lays out pillows and blankets to look at the stars with his daughters in the courtyard of their family home at night before the bombs drop. The loss of that Raqqa feels unbearable.
The parallel stories of the brothers’ lives is informative and deeply moving. The emotional narrative of their Syrian home will help readers to better understand why people choose to leave and why others stay.
... thoughtful ... Conn’s affecting narrative touches deeply not just on these contrasting immigration issues, with the strong implication that Germany’s gain is America’s loss, but also on how the bonds of family and old community can exist even when people are uprooted. As such, it makes a solid complement to Khaled Khalifa’s novel Death Is Hard Work (2019) as a study in how people persist and prevail in a time of terror ... A convincing counterargument to anti-immigrant sentiment.