Notes from an Italian hermitage – despatches from BOLOGNA #3
BOEKENWEEK: Two Blankets, Three Sheets by Rodaan Al Galidi (Netherlands)
7th March 2020
BOEKENWEEK – celebrating Dutch Literature in English.
2020 marks the 85th Annual Boekenweek, which will take place from March 7th to March 15th. This year’s theme is REBELS & DISSENTERS. Indy publishers World Editions are teaming up with Faber and Atlantic to offer some sizzling new Dutch titles!
In the Netherlands, Boekenweek (Book Week) is an annual celebration of literature, happening every Spring since 1935. Events are held across the country during Boekenweek, and include book signings, readings, and panel discussions. Every year, a well-known Dutch author is asked to write a novella specifically for Boekenweek, which is given out for free in bookstores to each customer who purchases a book. These novellas then act as tickets for a free train ride anywhere in the country. How great is that!
Two Blankets, Three Sheets by Rodaan Al Galidi, novel set in the Netherlands.
What is it like to be a refugee, seeking asylum in Europe? Look no further than Galidi’s experience. He has chosen to pin some of his own experiences onto a fictional character, Samir Karim, who arrives in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, in 1998, having spent three years in South East Asia seeking refuge from his home country Iraq.
And thus it is he lands in an ASC (Asylum Seekers’ Centre) and chronicles his life amongst others similarly seeking a new life, away from atrocities and horror. The title refers to the first items an asylum seeker is offered, to wit items of bedding, deemed to be the first essentials for people who arrive with very little or, more likely, with nothing.
His character observes those around him and tries to get a handle on the new set up in which he finds himself, not to mention cultural interchanges with the Dutch people who are running the centre. The levels of bureaucracy he describes are simply astounding and disheartening!
It is written with tremendous stoicism because some awful things happen. And yet it is overlaid with humour. In many ways this is an instructive and heartfelt revelation of what it is like to be cooped up, sleeping in a room with several other people and trying to persuade the authorities that he is a worthy cause. There is virtually no privacy. People are packed in, they are fed and watered but have to while away their days doing very little. Their only perks seem to be a ration of aspirin and three condoms per day (which does make the mind boggle).
He spends 9 years in this limbo, yes, 9! Others are there for even longer, which I found utterly bewildering. He inevitably becomes desperate to find a normal life and tries to take himself off to Germany – or Denmark – or anywhere away from Holland, where people seen to be dragging their feet beyond what is normal. He resorts to immersing his thumbs in concrete to change his thumbprint (apparently that is a thing). Once you are finger-printed at the point of entry, where you initially intend to seek refuge, then no other country will accept you, thus the subterfuge. But each time he ‘escapes’ he is repatriated to the Netherlands.
It is a salutary and thought provoking examination of the plight of asylum seekers. How many of us truly know what happens?
ASC: For years, it was a place of waiting and wailing, silence and screams, birth and death, suffering and succour….
If you want to know how Samir Karim’s story ends, you will need to buy the book!
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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