Daniel Saadatmandi 

Staff reporter 

Being a refugee is one of the worst things that can happen to person, being forced to leave their home due to things outside of their control, like unjust persecution, starvation, and civil war. And no book shows the hardships that refugees face better than Refugee by Alan Gratz, who masterfully tells the fictional, but historically authentic and tragic tales of three kids, Joseph, a Jewish boy fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. Isabel, a Cuban girl of 12 attempting to flee the Maleconazo uprising of 1994. And Mahmoud, a Syrian of 13, whose family is attempting to make it to Germany to avoid the Syrian civil war. It is a great book that has all of the intrigue, loss, sorrow, and irony that you will ever want. 

The St. Louis, the ship that Joseph takes in his story.

The first story is about Joseph, a Jewish boy who flees Nazi Germany in 1939, only a few months before the beginning of the Second World War. It is easily the most tragic story, based on the tragedy of the St. Louis, a ship that took over 900 Jewish refugees and attempted to take them to Cuba. But when they arrived, they were turned away, however the Capitan of the ship, Gustav Schroeder (a character in the book), refused to take the refugees back to Germany to be sent to concentration camps and was able to get France, Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands to spilt up the refugees between them. Joseph and his family end up in France, at first there safe, but then the Germans invade, and that’s when the climax of the book takes place. 

Cubans fleeing on a raft in 1994.

The next story takes place in 1994, Isabel is an 11-year-old Cuban girl, living in poverty with her family, and her friend Ivan’s family. After a large and violent riot during the Maleconazo uprising, both Isabel’s family and Ivan’s family decide to take a homemade boat and cross the sea to get to America. After a long and dangerous trip, where Isabel saves Ivan’s dad, and where a connection between this story and Joseph’s story is reveled, they eventually reach Florida after barley evading the American coast guard. 

The destroyed remains of Aleppo in 2015. 

The final story takes place in 2015, Mahmoud and his family live in the war-torn city Aleppo, during the Syrian Civil War. Following a bombing of the city, which results in the destruction of Mahmoud’s home. He and his family began their journey to Germany. There is a nice irony about the fact that the first story is about fleeing Germany, and last one is about fleeing to Germany. They eventually reach Turkey, and cross the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, however, during the crossing, their ship sinks. A few hours later, they are found by the Greek coast guard and brought to the mainland. They continue their journey northward, and eventually get detained in Hungary, but after a massive walk out by the refugees, they eventually reach Austria, and then Germany, where they are taken in by a familiar face.  

This book is great. The plots are compelling, the characters, though not super deep, are interesting enough to keep you invested, and the idea of splitting the book into three stories was a good idea that was implemented very well, never does it feel like as though the constant change in setting throws of the pacing. And each story is connected in a small way, and there is a good amount of irony as well. The book is also tragic, with each story having a big tragic event alongside the greater tragedy that causes the character’s exodus in the first place. It is a beautiful book that makes the reader empathize with the struggles of refuges, and makes you really think about how hard they have it. 

This is why more people should read this book. 


St. Louis




Refugee cover Feature Image