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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes


A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

Author Atia Abawi, a foreign news correspondent whose parents were Afghan refugees, first gained popularity among young adult readers with her romantic novel, SECRET SKY, set in modern-day Afghanistan. In her latest novel, A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES, Abawi draws from her experience reporting in the Middle East to tell the continuing story of the Syrian refugee crisis to her teen audiences. Raw and authentic, A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES is a witness to the struggle of all refugees. 

Present-day Syria is a country torn apart by the government and the Daesh, and caught in the middle are the families who suffer the consequences. In A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES, Tareq, a teenage boy, can remember a time before the war started, when his family was able to live peacefully going to school, swimming in the Euphrates River and practicing their Muslim faith. Suddenly, forced to flee with only their lives, Tareq and his family attempt the harrowing passage from Syria to Europe in hopes of a better future. The life of a refugee is perilous with starvation, human trafficking and criminals who would take advantage of their plight. Tareq and the refugees he meets on the way are faced with discrimination when trying to find jobs, registering in different countries and being manipulated by those who would rather exploit their desperation for their own gain.

"Beautifully written with identifiable characters....With a realistic and empathetic outlook on humanity and basic human rights, this novel is one I strongly recommend to everyone."

Narrated by the omnipresent and solemn Destiny, Tareq’s story is eye-opening to the horrors that refugees experience, specifically those fleeing to Europe from Syria and Afghanistan. Though this is a work of fiction, A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES is derived from Abawi’s own experience documenting the Syrian refugee crisis and does not dramatize nor underplay the reality of the situation. It is perfectly balanced; while serious, the novel itself is not dense; though not blatant, Abawi elegantly describes, through the casual conversations of the characters, the political tensions that stimulated the Syrian Civil War; it is neither slow nor action-packed, which allows for the reader to reflect on the experiences the novel presents.


Through Destiny, Abawi describes Tareq’s loneliness caused by the ghosts of his past as he struggles to cope with terror and questions everything he thought he knew. While describing atrocities no one should see, the beginning tone is childlike as Tareq imagines his family together and whole, reminding the reader that refugee children are forced to grow up sooner than intended. Still, Tareq and the refugees are a testimony to hope, finding ways to survive by gathering together for strength, sharing in each other’s sorrow as they undertake their journey. “Goodbye Syria, please forgive us…we didn’t want to go.”

While the thoughts and concerns of many characters are presented, Abawi smoothly switches between the perspectives of Tareq and Alexia, a young American volunteer in Greece. Alexia, who means well but is relatively naive, learns to come to know the other volunteers and refugees she interacts with in the face of dangers that she is not immune from either. Through Alexia, Abawi addresses the sense of responsibility that many volunteers in the same position as Alexia have, including futileness in the face of extreme loss. Still, Alexia upholds the hopeful tone of the novel when she insists on continuing, constantly looking for the helpers in her life.

Beautifully written with identifiable characters, A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES’ characters do not seem to have many flaws in the beginning. However, I do not think it detracts from the novel; disaster can strike anyone, no matter who they are. Neither does Abawi does not vilify anyone; rather, she focuses on how tragedy can change people, sometimes for better or worse. She describes how young boys are recruited and brainwashed to join the Daesh army, her tone both ironic and sad as she considers the fate of those who are led into becoming perpetrators of human suffering. However, Abawi strongly calls her readers to their moral obligation to stand up for human dignity. Destiny warns all those who sit by and watch, “I hope you will…do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you --- and I will --- there will be a reckoning. There always is.”

A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES is a captivating portrayal of the story of all refugees. Personally, this novel has given me a new understanding of refugees and a desire to act and share their story. With a realistic and empathetic outlook on humanity and basic human rights, this novel is one I strongly recommend to everyone.

Reviewed by on January 29, 2018

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
by Atia Abawi