City of Thorns

City of Thorns

Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp

Book - 2016
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Named a 2016 Best of Book of the Year by The Economist

To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a 'nursery for terrorists'; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.

Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. Among them are Guled, a former child soldier who lives for football; Nisho, who scrapes an existence by pushing a wheelbarrow and dreaming of riches; Tawane, the indomitable youth leader; and schoolgirl Kheyro, whose future hangs upon her education.

In City of Thorns , Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Rawlence combines intimate storytelling with broad socio-political investigative journalism, doing for Dadaab what Katherinee Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers did for the Mumbai slums. Lucid, vivid and illuminating, City of Thorns is an urgent human story with deep international repercussions, brought to life through the people who call Dadaab home.

Publisher: New York : Picador, 2016.
Edition: First U.S. edition.
ISBN: 9781250067630
Characteristics: xvi, 384 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm


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AL_JODY Feb 22, 2018

Listening to the stories of 9 refugees living in the largest refugee camp in the world will inform your understanding of the difference between immigrants and refugees. Dadaab, in northern Kenya is a UN sponsored refugee camp metropolis the size of New Orleans! The book is well-researched and well-written. I recommend listening to the downloadable audio and reading the book to see the maps and spellings of names and places.

Aug 12, 2017

An insightful portrait of Dadaab, a refugee camp of more than 600,000 people in northern Kenya, told through the stories of nine vulnerable people, mostly from Somalia, living in limbo. The author was with Human Rights Watch and spent many months in the camp. A wake-up call to the suffering of others. Well-done.

Dec 11, 2016

This is simply stunning. Since Hennepin County is fortunate enough to enfold many thousands of these refugees, could the library please pick up a few more copies of this book? It's a slow, demanding read, and I want to finish it.

May 20, 2016

The tragic backgrounds of the people consigned to life in the camps are the result of inter-tribal wars that have occurred relentlessly and drought. Rawlence does a wonderful job in humanizing some of the victims. With religious fanaticism, rampant government corruption and greed, there would appear to be no solution to the refugees of Dadaab and other such camps.

SquamishLibraryStaff Apr 06, 2016

'Life was only a process of waiting'.

An eye opening account of what life really is like in the world's largest refugee camp. Ben Rawlence exposes the dramas and politics of Dadaab located in the desert of northern Kenya.
Overall, this was an informative and capitivating read. As the world's refugee crisis is only getting worse, due in part experts say to global warming, I would highly recommend this book.

'There was a crime here on an industrial scale: confining people to a camp, forbidding them to work, and then starving them; people who had come to Dadaab fleeing famine in the first place.'

Mar 25, 2016

The stories of nine people living in the camp are told from their intimate perspectives and bring you right inside a place of extreme hardship. It is easy to forget that these people love their families and want to achieve good things in their lives just like anyone else. By the mere fact of the place in the world they are born, they have such tragically limited opportunities for even the basic ability to provide for themselves and their loved ones. It is hard to read about the political machinations that go on, the horrible conditions that are just life as usual for the refugees because of the greed of powerful individuals. Even worse are the bad judgments that happen from misconceptions or just lack of knowledge.

This was a very well-written book. The narrative drew me in and kept me reading in spite of the complicated political background and emotionally rough subject matter. Rawlence seems to have a very good understanding of the world of the UN and NGOs, as well as strong empathy for the residents of Dadaab.


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