Book review

An Unsafe Haven by Nada Awar Jarrar, Book Review

We are all aware of the crisis currently hot in the world; millions of displaced peoples away from their homes. Sometimes we feel displaced and alien even in the very places we know the soul of! An unsafe haven is one such story.

An Unsafe Haven

Title: An Unsafe Haven

Author: Nada Awar Jarrar

Publisher: HaperCollins India

Published: August 2016

Format reviewed: paperback

Rating: 5/5

City [s] set in: Beirut

Time period: Contemporary

Professions of main characters: Journalist, Doctor, Artist, Aid worker.


Imagine trying to live a normal life in a world which changes daily and where nothing is certain…  Hannah has deep roots in Beirut, the city of her birth and of her family. Her American husband, Peter, has certainty only in her. They thought that they were used to the upheavals in Lebanon, but as the war in neighbouring Syria enters its fifth year, the region’s increasingly fragile state begins to impact on their lives in wholly different ways. An incident in a busy street brings them into direct contact with a Syrian refugee and her son. As they work to reunite Fatima with her family, her story forces Hannah to face the crisis of the expanding refugee camps and to question the very future of her homeland. And when their close friend Anas, an artist, arrives to open his exhibition, shocking news from his home in Damascus raises uncomfortable questions about his loyalty to his family and his country. Heartrending and beautifully written, An Unsafe Haven is a universal story of people whose lives are tested and transformed, as they wrestle with the anguish of war, displacement and loss, but also with the vital need for hope.

My Thoughts:

An Unsafe Haven is a story of Hannah, Peter, Anas, Maysoun and the people in their life. Set in Beirut they live in an illusion of a safety bubble with neighbouring Syria on a boil and slowly erupting like a patient volcano. 

Hannah is a journalist who on her research visits, meets and listens to the journeys taken by the refugees and how they ended in her homeland Lebanon. Hannah has a front view seat and sometimes a role to play as she learns about the refugee plight for her articles. Hannah surprisingly, surrounded by chaos, has her feet and heart firmly grounded in Beirut, she wouldn’t even dream of leaving her homeland. Peter, her husband, on the other hand battles between his inability to practice medicine being a non resident in Beirut and those whispering doubts which make him question the logic of staying in a troubled land. His love for Hannah is strong and he wouldn’t dream of leaving without her but he still faces emotional conflict at times.

Anas is a Syrian from Damascus with a German wife and 2 kids. He is also an artist and like Hannah refuses to desert his home. His wife, Brigitte on the other hand is keen to leave the war and fly to the safety of Berlin for the sake of her children. This difference of opinion is what creates a deeper rift between the  couple and by the time Anas sees his wife’s point and decides to fly to Berlin he is abruptly caught in the crossfire of the war literally while on his way to safe havens.

Maysoun, an aid worker with the UN faces a similar situation with her widowed mother who refuses to leave Iraq but wants her daughter to live her own life wherever she wishes to. With only her mother and not many family members left alive she faces  the decision of leaving the war zone and moving to a safer Haven with a far off cousin in New Zealand.

The 4 friends are close in the sense that all they have is each other and time spent together is how they distract themselves momentarily from the war. They also help the refugees as much as they can while being each others moral support. Their lives are often enmeshed due to the war and makes for a interesting dynamic. The only drama is caused by war not by the inner turmoil each of them is going through. They have their priorities right and don’t blame the war for their own gloom or sadness. They take  everything that the war throws them in their stride and survive. There are even moments of joy, happiness, warmth. 

There is a beauty, quiet dignity in the situations the author has created. No doubt they are fictional but it’s not difficult to sense the despair in the air around the characters. Their attachment to a land, they know as home, the people and even the war which is all too familiar to them is in some way comforting to read about. The prose is Eloquent and at times feels like reading Poetry.

The simplicity of the author’s description, narration will capture your attention. She presents the conflicts of both the world and the heart in a way  which will make them seem real and even happening to you. The softness of human nature combined with a fierce resilience and pride in their homeland despite surrounded by violence will baffle you. You will not easily understand or grasp how for some people despite the war being at their doorstep it is still a place they will not leave.

An Unsafe Haven is a story which shows you how people are making do and surviving in a war zone. The violence and helplessness will frustrate you but the strength& resilience of people living in the middle of it will overwhelm you. You will think of them as crazies to stay there and not try to flee and slowly make you realise their strength, pride and a certain resignation to fate as well.

The straightforward way this story is told is simply beautiful to me and even made me write a few lines to sum it up.

Woh pal jab hum falsavon me baate kiya karte the, 

Woh waqt jo guzar gaya par dil pe apne nishan chhod gaya 

Kisi kalakar ke rangon ki Tarah. 

Loosely translated as, reading the story took me to a time of when we use to talk (about the world issues) philosophically. Of a time which has passed but left behind its marks on the fabric of our soul like a painter’s rag is covered in an array of colored smudges.

Book Buy link: Amazon India

About the Author

Nada Awar Jarrar was born in Lebanon to an Australian mother and a Lebanese father. She has lived in London, Paris,Sydney and Washington DC and is currently based in Beirut where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, The Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and Lebanon’s English language newspaper, The Daily Star. Her first novel, Somewhere, Home won the Commonwealth Best First Book award for Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

Reviewed by Bharti


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