Throughout a journey as haphazard as it’s harrowing, Aikins retains the deal with Omar and the opposite migrants whereas giving sufficient context that we all the time perceive what’s at stake on this high-risk, ever-shifting surroundings. At instances, particularly towards the tip, the pacing of the ebook is electrifying. However that is no “Sound of Music” finale. As a substitute Omar, Aikins and their fellow migrants climb mountains, solely to comprehend they’ve to return and discover one other approach. They’re apprehended by officers and launched, then caught once more. On the final minute, a smuggler hustles them onto a ship certain for the very a part of Europe they’d hoped to keep away from, resulting in a protracted interval of confinement in one of many worst detention encampments within the European Union. There aren’t any tidy arcs or pat resolutions. Aikins chronicles all of it, typing up his notes on his cellphone nightly, till ultimately he has logged greater than 60,000 phrases.
Small vignettes inform a bigger story. A Greek man yells on the Afghan migrants for swimming within the ocean, then apologizes: “Inform them it’s nothing private. … We’re each caught in the course of one thing a lot larger than us.” Rich nations, Aikins implies, love feel-good moments — holding up indicators that say “Refugees welcome right here!” or awarding humanitarian prizes — however are much less within the laborious work of learning the underlying causes of mass migration from war-torn and economically ravaged nations. As a substitute, that work falls too usually to people or small teams who can’t presumably handle the size of the disaster. The swelling waves of persons are barely contained by the border camp the place Aikins and Omar get caught, or within the squats and underground hiding locations the place they keep alongside the best way: “From this dammed-up pool of the displaced, the West takes measured sips.”
Aikins doesn’t simply criticize governments; he examines his biases in a approach that invitations readers to scrutinize their very own. He finds Omar’s virtually obsessive emotions for Laila alternately inspiring and irritating: “There was no logic to like.” Earlier than the journey, he spends months making an attempt to steer his pal to go away Afghanistan, however Omar lingers, hoping for some phrase from Laila. Months into their journey, Omar sinks right into a melancholy, listening obsessively to Celine Dion and looking Fb for mentions of Laila (who isn’t on social media). Aikins feels “a prick of annoyance” on the hours Omar spends observing his cellphone: “What sort of protagonist was he?” Aikins had hoped to jot down about “somebody who spoke English and understood Europe, who marched with the activists and made like to volunteers, an actual hero.” However Aikins makes use of this scene, amongst others, to shine a evident gentle on his personal unfair expectations; Omar is just not a inventory character — the revolutionary hero calculated to rally Western sympathy — however his pal, unhappy and homesick. Aikins ensures that, to the breathless finish, we’re rooting for Omar and the world he hopes to create for the love of his life.
On this journey, Aikins finds love too, although of a special form. When he cups a toddler’s head whereas their boat flails by riotous waves, when he dances with new buddies at an unlikely haven in Athens, when he shares a sandwich with a person who’s extra brother than pal, Aikins strikes previous his position as journalist. He experiences the type of equality that politicians, advocates and spiritual leaders tout however not often obtain. Aikins needs to imagine in some activists’ imaginative and prescient of a world the place transformative, systemic, societal change is feasible: “To imagine felt like falling in love.” As a substitute, he discovers that this splendid will be discovered solely “in fragments.” He weaves these fragments right into a meticulously advised story the world wants to listen to now greater than ever.