It’s the eighth day of the #RamadanReadathon blog tour and hidden behind the eighth door is…
SEA PRAYER BY KHALED HOSSEINI
A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone.
Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution, and he will donate author proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe.
Sea Prayer will be published on August 30th 2018; it is a response to the heartbreak of the current refugee crisis and is a deeply moving, beautifully illustrated short work of fiction for people of all ages, all over the world.
The concept of the book is quite similar to a short story I wrote about a year ago. It started as a response to the prompt journey but later turned into an epistolary story when I rewrote it as my submission for #ChangeBook. It then went through another stage of editing when I decided to use it as part of my creative writing portfolio at university. I guess you could say Paradise has been through a journey of its own, and it’s still not perfect but I’m proud of it and I wanted to share some extracts from it – in the form of letters the narrator writes to her father.
i woke up for the first time in silence to the cold wind blowing in my face. for a second, i forgot where i was and how i got here. a loud noise startled me but i knew it wasn’t the bombs. we stopped hearing the bombs a long time ago.
hana was curled up beside me on the floor, the same way she had been when we finally got off the truck, our hair damp and our clothes soaking wet. i knew something was wrong as soon as i looked at her. panicking, i ran out of our tent and into the blinding sun. i ran beside row upon row of neatly lined up tents until i found what i was looking for.
it was the first thing i noticed when we arrived, because of how many people were lined up outside. the line had become shorter but i still had to wait to be seen. when the doctor and i returned to the tent, we found hana awake, crying and coughing up blood.
when i close my eyes, all i can see is mama and the boat. rocking, rocking, rocking. it was gentle at first and the sound of the ocean put hana to sleep against mama’s chest. mama wrapped her scarf around hana so she wouldn’t feel cold. i was squashed up against them. there wasn’t much room to move.
then, the boat was sinking, sinking, sinking and everybody was screaming and it was like mama knew. do you think she knew, that she wouldn’t make it?
it all happened so fast, baba. first, mama was holding hana and then i was holding hana and then the water was taking mama and she didn’t scream like the others. the water was in my nose and my mouth and my lungs too and i tried to scream because i couldn’t breathe and hana was still asleep in my arms.
now she’s sick, and they don’t know how long she’s been this way. they won’t let her stay with me in case it spreads so i’m all alone wearing clothes that don’t fit because they aren’t mine. and i’m scared, baba. i wish you were here.
you were supposed to be here, at the end of our journey, waiting for us.
your little paradise.
i went to see hana.
i’m writing this as she sleeps against my chest, the way she used to sleep against mama. you never got to see it or feel it, but it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
the doctor said i’m supposed to be careful around her, in case i get sick too, but she was so happy to see me again that i scooped her right up in my arms. she’s getting better, but because they don’t have enough of the medicine she needs it’s going to take much longer.
she didn’t cry once, but i was so happy to see her too that i was the one crying for the both of us. the whole time she had her little fingers wrapped around my hair and she kept saying my name again and again and again. nenna. nenna. nenna. it’s like she couldn’t believe i was real.
i don’t bother correcting her about my name anymore. mama told me she’ll soon learn how to say it properly, but deep down i don’t want her to because then i’ll know she’s growing up.
she’s almost two, baba. you already know that, but it hurts to think about how much you’ve missed. her first word was of you. because you weren’t here, i taught her all the countries of the world, the places we’ve never been to, as she held your map in her little hands, and i told her all about how wonderful you are. when it wasn’t safe to go outside, we played doctor. i would pretend to be the patient and she would pretend to be you, wrapping her bandages around my invisible wounds.
before she fell asleep, she asked what i was writing and i told her i was writing to you. she sucked on her thumb then and whispered a question in my ear, as if she was too scared to say it aloud. how was i supposed to tell her that we will never see mama again? so i looked into her innocent eyes and i lied.
forgive me, baba.
maybe you can tell her what i couldn’t.
your little paradise.
She turns to the last page of her battered journal. The memories still so vivid after so many years. They never really went away, appearing often at night to haunt her dreams. Memories of drowning, the icy water taking her under. Memories before that, of the men beating the women as the children cowered behind them. Memories of what will always be home, despite the life they’d made for themselves here. The life before the bombs. With her Baba and her Mama. Memories of camp and the stories they’d shared.
For years, she couldn’t feel anything but the ache of loss in her chest. But then her heart opened up for her husband and for her children. The last journal entry was written years after the previous one. It’s the one she remembers writing the most when, like always, her sister was sleeping beside her as they once again left a home they knew. With Hana’s head now resting against her shoulder, she whispers the final chapter of their story.
and you were right.
it is beautiful.
I love this story, despite the sadness that runs through it. I love the narrator, Jennah, and the relationship she has with her sister. And I really love this quote, which is the only one to survive the journey from first draft to current draft. I feel like it really captures the entirety of their story in just three lines.
mama never told us where we were going. she only said it would be more beautiful, but she was wrong. the world isn’t beautiful anymore without her in it.