Welcome to the New World made its debut as a biweekly comic strip in the New York Times that "chronicle[d] the arrival and experience of a single [Syrian] family." The author/illustrator team, Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, went on to win the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning. The resulting illuminating book documents the Aldabaan family's exodus from war-torn Syria and eventual Connecticut relocation. Diverging from the Times comics in which identities were originally protected with pseudonyms, here the family reclaims their true names.
The Aldabaans lived comfortably in Homs, Syria, until the Assad regime brutally imprisoned three of five brothers. After one of the wives managed to secure their miraculous release, the family fled to Jordan, awaiting U.S. entry permits. Brothers Ibrahim and Issa, their wives and children are approved, landing in New York City on Election Day 2016. Trump's victory all but ensures their left-behind relatives remain barred from the U.S.
With housing, money and jobs arranged by sponsoring organizations, the family is expected to be self-sufficient within three months. Halpern and Sloan focus on Ibrahim, his wife, Adeebah, and their two oldest (of five) children. Meaningful employment eludes Ibrahim; Adeebah's art offers solace; teens Naji and Amal deal with school. Racism looms, from microaggressions to a vicious telephoned death threat. The kindness of strangers is a healing balm.
Rendered in stark black-and-white, with blue shading, Sloan's panels seem constantly in motion, a fitting reflection of the family's ongoing adaptation, negotiation and assimilation. Welcome is not always the response the Aldabaans encounter, but their resilience shines as they work to build the safety and security that will someday allow them to feel at home. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon