The Boy on the Beach, Tima Kurdi

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The Boy on the Beach isn’t available until April, but as soon as I received the advanced reading copy in the mail, I immediately began reading it.

Alan Kurdi, wearing the clothes Tima Kurdi, his aunt, bought for him. This devastating photo became a wake up call to the world about the Syrian refugee crisis. 

As soon as I opened the envelope and found this book and read what it was about, I posted this on my personal Facebook page:

One of the great perks of being an obsessive reader (and sharing a website to talk about it with Elizabeth) is receiving advanced copies of books before they are published.

Today I received “The Boy on the Beach” by Tima Kurdi. You may remember Tima’s nephew – he was the 2-year-old boy that drowned on a Turkish beach in 2015 and their family’s grief suddenly became the poster for the refugee crisis.

“The Boy on the Beach” is Tima’s story of living in a culture that has always been based on the principle of open doors and open hearts, but sadly the rest of the world is stuck in their “not in my backyard” mentality.

I cannot wait to read this, and I’m pushing all other books aside to read it, and to truly reflect and set aside my privilege of living in a country that is not in crisis, and ripping apart families because of war. Tonight I’ll be walking in Ms. Kurdi’s shoes.

And to find this sentiment on page 188 was quite heartbreaking: “No one can understand our pain unless they walk in our shoes.” (said by Abdullah, Tima’s brother)

The book is broken down into three parts:

Part 1: Tima is describing the Syria she left, the Syria of her childhood. She married and moved to Canada long before the war started. But this section is filled with the joy, the love, the happiness and prosperity that was Syria, how her home was always filled with family and laughter. The glorious Mediterranean beaches and the particular closeness she had with her brother Abdullah. No one would ever consider leaving Syria, this was where happiness and family were firmly rooted.

Part 2: The war has started and while Tima’s family is desperate to remain in their homes, they are also too scared to stay.  I must have taken a number of pictures of the pages in this section – I’ll put a few of them in here. These are the times where Tima is desperately trying to get her family to Canada until the war is over. Anything to get them to safety for the time being until the war ends.  She describes the constant battle, the frustration and the inability to cut through the Canadian red tape to get them here. Instead, her family has to find other ways to get into Turkey and from there to other parts of Europe, to places that have opened their doors to the refugees. But until they are able to connect with their families again in Turkey, the men are subjected to capture and torture by the ISIS terrorists. Abdullah was captured and held for many days – every day they tortured him including pulling all his teeth out with pliers. Once they are outside of Syria, they are housed in conditions that are deplorable and locked away behind wire fences like criminals.

The refugees were victims of terrorism and global geopolitics, yet they were increasingly viewed with the same suspicion and hostility as the terrorists they had barely managed to escape. 


Like I said, there were many parts of this book where I was dog-earing the pages, wanting to underline sections, I could have probably transcribed many parts of this book into here. I took pictures of entire pages and included one here where she is describing the unbelievable hoops that had to be jumped through, only to be consistently denied the Canadian government to bring her family to safety. (I think these sections were so important given the impression by the “not in my backyard” crowd that feel our doors are wide open and we are pathetically slack in allowing refugees here. Tima Kurdi ensures that is well spelled out and absolutely not the case – much to her extreme sadness and frustration.

The third part is the most devastating and heartbreaking. Abdullah has attempted to get his family to safety in Greece. They risk their lives, and his wife and two sons pay the ultimate sacrifice when they all drowned trying to make that crossing in an over-crowded ill-equipped boat with too many others all desperate to escape as well. This is the part where the world is awakened to the desperate plight of the refugees because a photographer has captured their sorrow and anguish in a picture of little Alan, the joyous and happy little boy, face down on the beach, wearing the clothes his Aunt Tima had bought for him.

Abdullah is beyond devastated, and takes to sleeping by their graves and refuses to leave Syria now that he has lost everything. Tima speaks to the press, to politicians and becomes an advocate in any way she can to wake the world up to the suffering and plight of the refugees. She feels the politicians are still sleeping, and even though every time that picture of Alan is shown, it causes her family unbelievable grief, she knows it keeps this tragedy in front.

“Many well-intentioned people post that photo, sharing it in the spirit of helping refugees. We are willing to swallow the heartache the photo causes in the hopes that it will prevent more suffering and deaths. But many others help themselves to the photograph to support their own political agendas. We are powerless to stop that because we don’t own the photograph of the boy on the beach, yet for Abdullah, it is a literal reminder of the horrible moment when his wife and sons slipped from his grasp.”

This is not a political story that Tima Kurdi has written. While she does speak of her criticism of the Harper government and his dismissal of the refugee crisis, this is absolutely her personal story. I do hope you read this when it comes out in April and you take some time to walk in their shoes, and take this harrowing journey with them. It is an important read, and it is so heartbreaking. Tima Kurdi writes this story well and it’s obviously one that will stay with me for quite some time.