What We Remember Will Be Saved: A Story of Refugees and the Things They Carry

Stephanie Saldaña's gorgeous third book, What We Remember Will Be Saved, presents a powerful perspective on the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Based on in-depth interviews with refugees, Saldaña (A Country Between) tells their stories through what they preserved: an elaborately embroidered dress, a pharmacy that served the community, songs that prove "both fragile and portable." Saldaña mixes research, reporting, and reflection to bring her subjects to vivid life, recounting their journeys away from Iraq, Jordan, and Syria to build new homes while preserving their memories.

Saldaña follows five refugees: Hana, who embroidered a dress depicting the details of her hometown; Ferhad, a musician who formed a band with his friend Hozan to preserve Kurdish music; Ghadir and Adnan, a married couple who ran a pharmacy in their Aleppo neighborhood. She recounts Munir's experience fleeing ISIS, ending up on the Greek island of Lesvos, and becoming a conduit for fellow refugees to receive aid, and Qassem's efforts to keep his family together as they traveled from Iraq to Germany. Saldaña shares some harsh details of violence, death, and deprivation in her subjects' lives but focuses on their memories and stories: "Story is what keeps us whole," she writes. She weaves together the heartbreak of "losing an entire life" with the particular details of the places her subjects left, and their efforts to begin again in new locations. Powerful and unflinching, yet focused on hope, Saldaña's narrative is a timely, urgent addition to the discourse around refugees, and a tribute to their resilience. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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