Crossing Borders Through Books

The Literary Hill

232

Migrants on the Move

A little girl turns her family’s migrant experience into a fantastic adventure in a book by Kyo Maclear illustrated by Hill artist Rashin Kheiriyeh.

Hill artist Rashin Kheiriyeh teams with award-winning children’s author Kyo Maclear in “Story Boat,” a new picture book about families forced to flee their homes. Told from the point of view of one little girl—who never says what they are escaping from or where they are going—the story takes on an almost dreamlike quality. The migrants, their nationality both universal and irrelevant, trudge along, carting their belongings, sleeping in tents, and eventually piling into a raft. Along the way, the girl tells us, “things keep changing,” and “here isn’t always the same.”

Throughout the journey, she focuses on the few familiar comforts left to her—a warm cup to sip from, a soft blanket to sleep under, and a lamp to read by—and, using her cheerful imagination, transforms these simple pleasures into delightful fantasies. The blanket becomes a sail, propelling her in the cup over white-capped waves, with the lamp a lighthouse beckoning her on. “Where will we be?” she wonders. “Who will we meet?”

There are no answers. In the end, there is only the knowledge that their journey holds “the openness of a story.” And that the displaced children will continue to “dream and draw, / Make and play, / Search for treasure, / Find our way / And grow.”

Using a contrasting palette of cool blues and warm apricots, Kheiriyeh creates a world that conveys both uncertainty and wonder, joy and danger. Each vignette contains unspoken depths of feeling, from the guileless pleasures of a child to the worry and fatigue bending the backs of the grown-ups. Her artwork is the perfect complement to Maclear’s spare, lovely text, and a moving tribute to the nameless refugees all over the world seeking nothing more than a safe haven for themselves and their children.

Rashin Kheiriyeh is an internationally renowned illustrator, author, animator, and painter who has published more than 80 children’s books in countries all over the world and has received some 50 awards, including the 2017 Sendak Fellow Award. She teaches art at the University of Maryland and illustrates for The New York Times and other publications. www.rashinart.com

Migrants Kept Out

While more pressing concerns have pushed it out of the headlines, immigration remains a political hot-button issue. Now a pair of local reporters contends that much of the furor that Trump generated in his 2016 campaign and during the first years of his presidency was orchestrated by behind-the-scenes operatives bent on using him as a “vessel” for their anti-immigration agenda.

In “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear describe how restrictivists like Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller planted the seeds of Trump’s desire for a “big, beautiful wall” on the Mexican border by flattering his experience as a builder and exploiting his racist tendencies. He needed little encouragement, especially when he discovered that his crude rhetoric about rapists and criminals coming across the border incited his followers into a xenophobic frenzy.

With limited understanding, a “visceral antipathy” against immigrants, and an almost pathological fear of appearing weak, Trump issued travel bans, declared a “national emergency” to thwart the “invasion” of “caravans” advancing on the border, and, most famously, enforced a policy of separating children from their parents. “Unbothered by the details,” he even attempted to undo the birthright citizenship guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. And, of course, he continued to clamor for a border wall (or, barring that, a moat filled with alligators).

Davis and Shear expertly fill in a picture of a president ensconced in an “echo chamber in the White House,” angrily demanding solutions without listening to the explanations, refusing to acknowledge the legal limits of his authority, and suppressing anything (or anyone) disagreeing with his “gut” instincts. It’s a dispiriting scenario of a president existing “in a parallel universe of his own making,” denying the damage his policies have wrought and seeking only to blame others for his failings. “Border Wars” is at times an infuriating read, but it’s a cogent and authoritative inside account that should be required reading for every thoughtful American who plans to cast a vote this fall.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis is a congressional correspondent at the New York Times and has covered Washington politics for 22 years. Michael D. Shear is a White House correspondent in the New York Times Washington bureau and was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. www.borderwarsbook.com

Two local journalists expose the calculated underside of the Trump administration’s immigration policies in “Border Wars.”

The Lyon’s Share

What have you been reading lately? Like many people, when we first went into lockdown, I had trouble concentrating. The books I had been reading simply couldn’t hold my interest. I was too distracted, too edgy. I needed to go someplace familiar and comforting.

So I took Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia and got me to a nunnery—in spirit, at least. I returned to a mystery series I’d enjoyed many years ago that features a medieval nun who solves murders. If that sounds implausible to you, you’ve never met Dame Frevisse.

The creation of American novelist Margaret Frazer, Frevisse is a wry and feisty character who sometimes struggles with the humility and obedience required of her station. Despite being cloistered in St. Frideswide’s nunnery in the English countryside, she nonetheless manages to make good use of her keen observational skills and boundless curiosity to get to the bottom of some very complex crimes.

The larger historical context—from political intrigues to local mores—is rich and fascinating, but what drew me back were the peaceful day-to-day scenes in the cloister, which Frazer describes so beautifully: the swish of the Benedictines’ skirts as they tread the stone walks, the smell of the herbs in the infirmary garden, the sound of the nuns’ voices as they recite the prayers of the daily Offices.

Not that the 15th century didn’t hold horrors equal to or greater than our own, but within the walls of the nunnery, the routine becomes almost incantatory—save for the occasional murder, of course—and for me, at least, it provides a soothing escape from the fear and unsettledness that surround us.

I’m currently on number 14 of the 17 books in the series (alas, there will be no more as Ms. Frazer died in 2013) and can only hope that we get to Phase 2 before I reach the end. I also hope that, whether it’s between the covers of a book or elsewhere, you, too, have found a place that offers you some solace.