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Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian - My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph (International Edition) Hardcover – 22 May 2018
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"War, for all its atrocities, is punctuated by instances of unfathomable human spirit and grace. Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini's story is a prime example. Butterfly recounts this Syrian refugee's extraordinary tale of bravery, survival, and winsome, never-give-up moxie. It is impossible not to be won over by Yusra, who once swam for her life at sea and is now fighting for the dignity and wellbeing of countless refugees like her whose lives have been upturned by war."--Khaled Hosseini, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns
"[Mardini] offers an exceedingly rare window into middle-class girlhood in the middle of one of the most destructive wars of our time, and an even rarer start-to-finish account of the arduous migrant journey into Europe." --The New York Times
"Butterfly is a powerful story of survival, inspiration, and hope with a resounding message: no one chooses to be a refugee; rather, horrific circumstances force ordinary people to take extraordinary measures to save themselves. This unforgettable memoir shines a spotlight on the refugee experience and the role sports can play in giving a voice to those affected by conflict throughout the world."--Booklist (starred review)
"The extraordinary tale of a Syrian woman's journey from her war-torn country all the way to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil... moving, action-packed...a rousing, exciting true story of remarkable resilience." - Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Yusra Mardini is an Olympic swimmer and a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. She competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team. Mardini is from Damascus, Syria.
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Yusra and her sister Sara are ordinary Syrian girls – although they have great talent for swimming. When war breaks out, they don’t get much news. There’s gossip on the school bus and at first everything seems far away. Then their mum has to stop working at a spa a little way away, Then it gets closer. Suddenly they’re being confronted by tanks. Among all this, Sara and Yusra are growing up, Sara’s rebelling a bit. They seem to get more and more bright and sociable as the war intensifies, but something’s got to give and when they can’t go to swimming practice any more, it’s time to think of a solution.
People have been leaving one by one, and they can see paths to take. These are awful paths that no one would want to take, including matter-of-fact finding of people smugglers and paying over of large sums of money The paths involve putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers and bobbing across the Mediterranean in a small unseaworthy boat. Sara has said to Yusra that if it comes to it, they’re swimmers, they can save themselves. But of course they can’t do that, and while what Yusra hates is the myth that they towed the boat full of cousins and new friends across, of course it was less simple than that. They got out to make the boat lighter. They swam for hours, trying to keep it straight. Other people swam, too. Horrible. Again, the descriptions are visceral and haunting, but not graphic.
The struggle across the borders to Germany is as you can imagine – unimaginable in this day and age. They are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers and find this humiliating (wouldn’t we?). Once there, they are welcomed and happy but also treated like almost sub-humans, at the mercy of the authorities. Yusra really struggles with the word refugee. But she realises that, like her hero Malala, she can talk for thousands or millions of people with the spotlight she’s been given, so she steels herself to do that, for which I salute her.
There are a lot of positives – the story is really well-told, Yusra’s voice is lively and confident and bold and she’s so one-track-minded about her swimming, even being worried about making it to the Olympics because she’s a refugee rather than because she’s a brilliant swimmer. The people that help them in Germany are wonderful and we’re told that it was thousands of volunteers supporting the newcomers. The book ends on a positive note emphasising survival, and like I said at the start, there’s no gratuitous or graphic violence, so you can feel safe to read it and to give it to teenagers to read, I’d say.
Review copy received from the publisher in return for an honest review.