This could arguably be one of the most important books that I have ever read. It was more than papers sewn together, it was more than information, it was more than stories, it was the voice of the oppressed, or at the very least a medium for it.
It speaks of the injustice, abuse and masacre that society overlooks.
Imagine being in the comforts of your home, wrapped in your blankets just like any other day. And suddenly a troupe of men in your country’s military uniform barge in and start wreaking havoc. They steal all your valuables, kill your family in cold blood, and leave you without a home. You run out of your house and realize that this is happening to your whole neighbourhood. And all these cruel acts are justified to the government as they no longer deem you as a citizen of your own country. The very system that should protect you, wishes to eradicate your very existence and all because of your religion, your ethnicity, your culture.
Now stop imagining and start acknowledging that this scenario is the reality faced by a million Rohingya people originating from Myanmar.
‘No Way Home’ is a book containing real life stories of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Myanmar. These stories are collected by Teo Ann Siang, the author of the book who journeyed to various refugee camps in these three countries to seek these lost souls’ experiences and give them a chance to be seen in the eyes of the public.
The book is especially precious to me as it has successfully eradicated all the negative stereotypical connotations I had surrounding refugees. Due to this, I would highly recommend this book to everyone because these brave yet heartbreaking accounts must be recognized.
Despite containing well-researched information, the book does not classify itself as a scholarly piece which makes it an easy read. So to those of you who dread non-fiction books, this book can be a good piece to explore the genre.
The book is based on the author’s personal observations in Malaysia and abroad, combined with works by various organisations surrounding this humanitarian crisis.
It only took me three days to finish it – maybe less if not for my hectic schedule – despite the book being 201 pages thick.
The well-drawn illustrations in some chapters also acted as a relief in between reading. Rest assured, each chapter is only a few pages long with some containing bullet points to highlight the significant information.
For every chapter, the author includes his own personal thoughts regarding the matter which helps me as a reader to gain further insight on the subject. And the last few pages of the book contained perceptive images of the refugees and their living condition, bringing the reality of the situation to life.
As previously mentioned, the book is separated into three parts which centers around different regions:
- Part 1 covers the Rohingya situation in Bangladesh.
- Part 2 covers the Rohingya situation in Malaysia.
- Part 3 covers the Rohingya situation in Myanmar.
Most of the stories are presented through an interview by the author with the Rohingya refugees. These interviews, though carried out in a relaxed manner, are filled with desperation, wariness and occasionally – hope.
There were countless heartbreaking stories by the Rohingya that forced me to take a short break to fully comprehend the horrors inflicted upon them, with each experience more painful than the last. The horrors they had to endure to live another day are despicable, something no human should have to go through.
There were a few accounts that slip into my mind in between intervals of my mindless train of thoughts. This was how much their experience has affected me, allowing me to realize that suffering stretched beyond my personal understanding of the world. That while I struggle with my petty first world problems, there are people out there fighting for a chance of survival.
One of those accounts was of an 11 year old girl who had to walk more than a 100km from Rakhine State to Bangladesh. My mind could not fully comprehend how tiring it must be, especially at such a young age, to walk endlessly with the burden of knowing that if she were to stop, her life would be endangered. It is also upsetting to me that a mere child had to abandon her familiar surroundings and walk straight into an unknown territory.
Another narrative was told by a married woman who was my age, 19 years old, and was a mother. However, her baby had died while she was escaping Myanmar. It was an eye-opener for me to read about this woman, who was as young as I am, going through so much hardships. I could only imagine how utterly excruciating it must be to lose a child.
And one of the interview sessions that struck me was of a Rohingya family in Malaysia. Some Malaysians take advantage of the family’s helplessness by bringing the family to a far away location and forcing them to pay a fine of RM1000 despite the family possessing legitimate refugee cards. If the family refused to pay, they would be forced to walk back home. It had especially struck a nerve knowing that some Malaysians contributed in making their lives miserable.
These are among the many tragic stories recalled by the Rohingya, which stabs my heart with every turn of the page. Common themes in the interviews are the discrimination faced by the refugees, the sexual exploitation pushed onto the vulnerable women, abuse in households that are left unreported and other unfairness that make my blood boil.
Previously, such injustice had been a foreign concept to me. Any information of global issues I’ve acquired were through a screen. Perhaps this has created a distortion of reality, as though watching a scene from a glass window, aware but disconnected.
Despite the dark tones of the book, the ending of it is left in a hopeful one which inspires action to be taken. It speaks of how different organisations from different cultural and religious backgrounds are trying their best to help these people, sacrificing their time, effort and money.
Taking into account of aspects such as impact, information and readability, I would rate this book a:
4.5 stars out of 5
The high rating is due to my appreciation towards the author in making the information in the book easily digestible and understood whilst also maintaining my interest. The price is also generally affordable, RM30 (basically 2 McDonald’s meals), for the amount of research, travelling and effort it took to create such a meaningful book.
However, there is a small section at the end which took a little longer for me to read through as it slightly strays away from its early format of interviewing the Rohingya. It was still an informative section as it focuses on the humanitarian organisations which help these people.
All in all, I congratulate Teo Ann Siang in bringing this situation to light.
A part of me had known about the suffering in the world, but it felt like nothing more than background noises to my own problems. But reading the face-to-face interviews took me out of my comfort zone, and it felt like I was in the room with these refugees as their stories unfolded.
I would like to end this review with a note to those who are still reluctant to pick up this book either because you do not look kindly towards the refugees or you simply do not care about their lives.
Although these people do not originate from our land, it is our duty as part of the human race to finally listen to their cries.
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By Natasha Maya