Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian My story of Rescue Hope and Triumph

Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian My story of Rescue Hope and Triumph

Blurb

Butterfly is the incredibly powerful memoir of young Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini.

Yusra has always dreamed of being an Olympic champion swimmer and trains hard trying to make that dream come true but when war came to Syria she had to push that dream to one side.

Together with her sister she fled to Germany on a perilous journey in search of a life where bombs and the death of friends are not the norm. Along the way she and her sister became heroes and met some of the worse and best of humankind.

This amazing book reminds us that nobody chooses to be a refugee and that refugees are human too.


Our Review

Butterfly: from refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph is the incredibly powerful memoir of young Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini.

Yusra has always dreamed of being an Olympic champion swimmer and trains hard trying to make that dream come true but when war came to Syria she had to push that dream to one side.

Together with her sister she fled to Germany on a perilous journey in search of a life where bombs and the death of friends are not the norm. Along the way she and her sister became heroes and met some of the worse and best of humankind.

This amazing book reminds us that nobody chooses to be a refugee and that refugees are human too.

“My message has been the same throughout: a refugee is a human like any other.”

Butterfly is hands down the best book I have read so far this year. I don’t tend to read memoirs very often but if this any indication of what I have been missing out on then I will be reading a lot more. Yusra provides a human aspect to the things we can become complacent about seeing on the news.

Butterfly was a fantastic read but also a difficult one. A lot of the things Yusra and the others encountered on her journey made me feel disgusted that so-called civilized European citizens could treat other people like that.

Butterfly begins with Yusra at the most hazardous part of the journey from Syria to Europe and the part of the journey she and her sister Sara are most famous for. The boat the girls and their companions were on had begun to take on water and the engine had cut out so Sara, Yusra and a few others jumped into the water and took hold of the ropes on each end. They then swam the remainder of the journey. Yusra has often been commended for this action, but her sister and the others were just as heroic and deserving of recognition.

“When did our lives become so cheap? Risking it all, paying a fortune to climb onto an overcrowded dinghy and take our chances on the sea. Is this really the only way out? The only way to escape the bombs at home?”

When they were younger Sara and Yusra learnt to swim before they learnt to walk. He was a swim coach and his dearest dream was for them to become Olympians. A dream Yusra adopted for herself when she was six years old and her competitiveness meant she was well on her way to achieving her goals.

Then the Arab Spring happened in March 2011 and things in Yusra’s life began to change dramatically. It began with arrests and protests and gunfire in the streets. Then dodging shells in the street and being shot at by tanks becomes almost commonplace.

“In the beginning, the fear eats me up inside, not knowing if I’ll be next. And then, without me really noticing, the deaths became normal.”

Among the bombs and fighting Sara and Yusra still manage to find some semblance of a normal life, meeting with friends and experimenting with clothes despite the fact that, “Death is random, and ever present.”

When Yusra is 17 it becomes harder and harder to ignore the violence all around them and Sara and Yusra convince their parents to let them make the dangerous journey from their home in Syria to Germany. However, Yusra points out that if she had any real choice she would have stayed, no one chooses to be a refugee.

“I’m shocked at how determined I suddenly am. Leaving Damascus, leaving Syria, leaving my home. How did it get this far? The whole four years of the war flit before my eyes. The tanks, the bombs, the mortars, the gunfire. I’d stay if it stopped tomorrow. If only it would all stop.”

They have two choices on their journey to Germany: they can either go around the mountains and risk beatings by the Bulgarian police or they can make the dangerous journey by boat, a journey many thousands have made and not survived.

The girls and their companions opt for the boat journey, the most dangerous part of which is crossing the Hungarian border. A place where they faced extensive humiliation at almost every turn.

“I can’t bear to look the others in the face. The situation is just too embarrassing. We’re human beings, not animals. Yet here we are, like criminals crouching in a field, being hunted by the police.”

One of the most interesting parts for me to read was Yusra’s conflict with the label refugee.

“It’s the word. Refugee. It’s the bomb and the sea and the borders and the barbed wire and the humiliation and the bureaucracy. And yes, it’s the painful charity too.”

I empathised with her conflict over potentially being part of the refugee Olympic swim team. On the one hand she was obviously delighted at the opportunity but on the other hand there was that label again: refugee.

“I’m part of something much bigger. With the team, I’m representing sixty million displaced people across the world. It’s a huge responsibility, but I know my job. I have a message to spread: that being a refugee is not a choice. That we too can achieve great things.”

A fascinating read.

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