Review posted April 26, 2020.
Riverhead Books, 2018. 48 pages.
Review written November 29, 2018 from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Standout:
#3 Other Picture Books
Our library has this picture book in the adult fiction section – a decision I question. However, it’s difficult – this is a serious enough topic, you don’t want a happy preschool child running across it with their parents. Why not juvenile fiction? I’m not sure.
It’s actually the note at the very back that makes this so serious:
Sea Prayer was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015.
In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting the same journey.
The book itself contains no such tragedy. It is the letter of a father to his son – being written from a moonlit beach.
Both the language and the pictures in this book are gorgeous.
Here’s the beginning:
My dear Marwan,
in the long summers of childhood,
when I was a boy the age you are now,
your uncles and I
spread our mattress on the roof
of your grandfather’s farmhouse
outside of Homs.
We woke in the mornings
to the stirring of olive trees in the breeze,
to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat,
the clanking of her cooking pots,
the air cool and the sun
a pale rim of persimmon to the east.
He reminisces about when they visited, wishes his son could remember.
But that life, that time,
seems like a dream now,
even to me,
like some long-dissolved rumor.
He talks about how the city changed. The many deaths. The things his son knows about living during wartime.
You have learned
dark blood is better news
It gets especially poignant when the letter moves to the present.
Your mother is here tonight, Marwan,
with us, on this cold and moonlit beach,
among the crying babies and
the women worrying
in tongues we don’t speak.
Afghans and Somalis and Iraqis and
Eritreans and Syrians.
All of us impatient for sunrise,
all of us in dread of it.
All of us in search of home.
I have heard it said we are the uninvited.
We are the unwelcome.
We should take our misfortune elsewhere.
But I hear your mother’s voice,
over the tide,
and she whispers in my ear,
“Oh, but if they saw, my darling.
Even half of what you have.
If only they saw.
They would say kinder things, surely.”
He finishes with a prayer:
Pray God steers the vessel true,
when the shores slip out of eyeshot
and we are a flyspeck
in the heaving waters, pitching and tilting,
you are precious cargo, Marwan,
the most precious there ever was.
I pray the sea knows this.
How I pray the sea knows this.
There’s more than what I quoted here, about twice as much, and the pictures are equally beautiful.
Would you give this book to a child? Even though children are the ones living it? What do you think?