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Monday, April 27, 2015

A German Author Draws on his Childhood in Syria to Write a Novel that Might Connect to YA Readers in the States.

Schami, Rafik (1987) A Hand Full of Stars New York:  Dutton.

Opening Lines:  January 12 -- One day my old friend, so dear to me that I call him "Uncle" Salim, said to me,: "What a pity I can't write.  I have experienced so much that was important.  Today I no longer know what has kept me for years from sleeping at night."

In this book we read the journal of a young man growing up in Syria (He refers to himself as I.  I seem to remember that somewhere in the book one of his friends, or his Uncle called him by his first name, but I can't seem to find it.  The journal writer loves school, but his dad wants him to drop out to take over the family bakery.  He wants to be a journalist, but the old journalist in his neighborhood tells him it is an awful job.  He is in love with Nadia, but her father works for State Security and can make things very uncomfortable for the journal writer's family. 

A lot of the book is pretty standard coming of age stuff, as the protagonist deals with lying to his parents, with rebelling against the government, with seeing his first pornographic film (and almost being picked up in a raid), with exploring sexuality with his girlfriend, and with losing those he loves.   What makes this book different is the passion that the kid has for writing and, by writing, for changing the broken world he lives in.  Even though the Syria in the book is certainly not the Syria of today, it gives readers a picture of what it is like to live in a country where freedoms that many North Americans take for granted, especially freedom of the press, is certainly not a given. 

This book has references to the protagonist and Nadia having sex (though it is only mentioned in vague summary), and contains vulgar language, so a parental challenge is certainly possible.  The book, though, gives an excellent window into a very different world than the one most North Americans live and would be a good book to have in a high school classroom library. 

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