A gripping story of one child's experience of the civil war in Syria.
After growing up in Australia, Prue Mason travelled Australia and the world as a flight attendant and sometimes co-pilot on a private aeroplane with her husband, a professional pilot. They lived in Canada for three years, then the Gulf region of the Middle East for twelve years where she worked for children's newspaper Young Times writing feature articles, short stories and a counselling column. As a CELTA trained teacher Prue also taught English as a foreign language to Arabic speakers. Her award-winning book Camel Rider and Destination Abudai are based on her experience of life in Dubai. Prue returned to Australia in 2001, but visits the Middle Eastern region regularly. She and her husband own a vintage aircraft and can often be seen at sunset flying around the Glass House Mountains near where they live.
Lyn White has been a primary school teacher-librarian and EAL teacher for more than twenty years and recently completed postgraduate studies in Editing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. She is passionate about children's literature, committed to developing life-long reading habits in children and has great expertise in engaging students with quality texts and teachers with quality resources. Lyn is a part-time teacher at Blackburn English Language School, a pre-service supervisor with Deakin University and professional development/conference presenter for the Through My Eyes series.
When Zafir and his family move back to Syria, Zafir has little idea of what life will be like. He has been brought up in Dubai where he has mixed with a range of other kids his age from all countries of the world. He has been allowed to do things he wishes to do: talk openly about politics, use Facebook and a mobile phone without restriction, see the people he wants to see and so on, but when his father accepts a job in the hospital at Homs, his life changes dramatically. Here there are secrets, secrets he has little idea about, secrets when shared must be kept under wraps. His uncle seems to have more liberal views but again no one must know. His mother uses email, but only through a secret address and she has ideas about freedoms which too must never be discussed. His one friend at school, Rami also has secrets, and Zafir thinks it may have something to do with why the other boys call him names. When he finds out he must make a choice between his friend and the gang that pursues him. But one day he and his mother go to Damascus to see his uncle, without telling their father and here they see a brave few demonstrate against the government and see their uncle beaten and taken away by the police. The secrets have come out into the open and Zafir and his family are caught in the backlash when after a demonstration in Homs, his father helps a young man who has been shot by the police.
Another in the fine series, Through My Eyes sees Zafir at the centre of the story, a twelve year old Syrian boy exposed to a different lifestyle, seeing his own country’s dark heart. Through his eyes we see the terror under which many people live, the role of the state police and the cruel way some are treated. We see the more liberal minded striving for freedoms we take for granted in the West, and what happens to them when they call for change.
A timeline of Syria’s history fills in some of the background to the novel, and can be found at the end of the book, along with a dictionary of the Arabic words found in the text and information about the other books in the series. A map at the start of the book helps readers place where the story is set. This is a most readable and engaging book about a country we hear little of. It could well be used as a class set, as with any of this fine series, or a study where the class selects one of the Through My Eyes series to read in a group.
Fran Knight, Adelaide SA 5000
Prue Mason has set the scene for an interesting ‘refugee study’ with her exploration of the conflict in Syria’s civil war. She has intricately woven the threads of lives led by people of all classes, creeds and political persuasion in a country torn by war. In our current political climate, broadening the awareness of our future leaders to instil an open-minded, questioning attitude is crucial. Empathy and philanthropy are sadly lacking. Stories of the nature of this series are written by a researched pen. They are written for a purpose. They are written with understanding. Mason even manages to weave and Australian cleric into the mix.
The story aims to relate experience through the eyes of a child. It achieves this goal with great clarity. More than that, it addresses issues facing children on a daily basis – things we in Australia take for granted.
In the class room I would run the full series of novels in conference sets (Shahana, Malini, Zafir, Naveed, Amina and Emilio), challenging the groups to outdo each other on fine details aroused by the individual titles, to uncover the facts behind the stories, to make contact with the authors and to learn about life and culture in these war-torn regions. With UNICEF behind the series, a study of the role and history of this arm of the UN is essential. As with other titles in the series, Zafir has a glossary. I have found this, particularly in Senior Secondary English classes, as a springboard for EAL speakers to write from the perspective of their mother tongue, melding the two languages into a much richer fabric.'
Michael Cruickshank, Hellyer College, TAS
Zafir has moved to Homs from Dubai with his parents, and half a year later the excitement of living in a new city has worn off. But then he sees a body thrown from a moving car. Zafir questions this and wants to stop and help. Instead he's told to forget what he's seen and he realises there's a lot he doesn't understand about life in Syria, and nobody seems to want to tell him anything apart from ‘keep your head down’.
Soon after, the campaign for revolution in Syria begins, and Zafir's parents argue about their country's future. His father is arrested and his mother must leave Homs. As the conflict in the city worsens, everyday life becomes dangerous for a young boy. Zafir’s family is torn apart and this 13 year old boy, like so many other Syrian children, is forced to grow up fast in order to survive.
This story is another in UNICEF’s series Through My Eyes edited by Lyn White.
Prue Mason has lived in the Middle East and in this book, she tries to explain how the violence in Syria began and how it affects the civilians living there.
We have probably seen news clips of the terrible situation in Syria and in writing this fictional story, Mason gives the younger reader a chance to empathise with Syrians. As with the other titles in this series, readers are placed in a position of understanding the uncertain and often tragic circumstances of their international counterparts and are encouraged to exercise their compassion and sense of justice. I would recommend this book for nine to fourteen year olds. It would be a good addition for a study on the effects of civil war.
Nova Gibson, Massey Primary School
Another compelling addition to the Through My Eyes series, this story follows Zafir as he moves from Dubai, a country where he has enjoyed freedoms he took for granted, to Syria, where his freedoms and choice are severely limited. Zafir misses his friends; Facebook is banned by the government; he is witnesses to an abduction by the secret police and comes to realise that Syria is potentially a very dangerous place.
When demonstrations against the President start to become more frequent and the country slips into civil war, Zafir’s whole world crumbles about him, his father is arrested, they are evicted from their home, his grandmother’s home is bombed, his mother has had to flee the country and he is alone. This novel emphasises the differences in Zafir’s experience from the carefree existence he enjoyed in Dubai, a life style that our students in Australia can easily relate to, to the very restricted, controlled and dangerous life in Syria.
A novel to open students minds to what it is like to live in a world where your life can change in an instant, living with violence and conflict, where you have little or no control over what happens to you or your family, where people’s lives are just considered causalities of war, without value, this is an exceptional resource.
On a cautionary note, if you have students that may have come from areas of the world where they have fled conflict, please consider their reactions to this story before using it as a class text. I feel that students from Year 8 up would be able to have empathy for Zafir’s situation. I have enjoyed reading this entire series and I would recommend all the books to students and staff and parents at our school.'
Jan O’Sullivan, Library Technician, Yarra Hills Secondary College, VIC
The situation in the Middle East is so divisive across so many cultures, religions and geographic borders. The story of Zafir commences in Dubai and leads to a medical posting for his father to a hospital in Homs, Syria. His father’s role is one of teaching new medical staff contemporary approaches to hospital actions in Homs.
Bringing his wife, Nadia and Zafir to this area of conflict could be classed as an error of judgement. Whilst in Homs, Zafir attends an international school and pals up with Rami, another young teen, and they share their secrets and knowledge as youngsters do here in Australia.
However, one morning on the way to school, Zafir witnesses a body being thrown out of a vehicle with no one prepared to stop and help. Even his own driver taking him to school speeds away from the scene. It is at this point that the novel begins to look at the Syrian conflict and how it impacts on the residents of Homs in particular. The use of the Syrian army, police and the secret police of President Assad to quell activists for change in Syria is clearly and simply explained to the reader.
Zafir, as a fourteen year old young person, experiences some really low emotions whilst staying in the wartorn town of Homs. After managing to meet Eleni, a visiting teen girl from Australia, his spirits rise. Her father is a Christian priest helping the Christian population in Homs and at the same time intermingling with the other religious groups in the city. Zafir asks Eleni about Australian life whilst sharing skateboard adventures and dreams of Australian residency impacting on his own life. So often his mother has mentioned that becoming an immigrant to Australia would be fantastic.
The storming of the Homs hospital by black-shirted secret police, maniacal arrests, and then the surrounding of the city by various army and militia groups invokes a sense of frustration with the reader… how in heaven can this really happen? Then the shells and rockets begin to fall in to the residential area where Zafir resides. The consequences are beautifully described by Prue Mason and ensure that fiction and current affairs paints a picture of desperation and helplessness for so many innocent people.
The novel ends quite dramatically as the reader is left to seriously ponder the next set of events that may confront Zafir and his beleaguered family. Using current affairs knowledge, the situations that may eventuate in Zafir’ s life are easily intertwined into the student’s reading of the Middle East situation and the human tragedy facing so many people.
Trevor Dangerfield, Elisabeth Murdoch College