Hakim’s Odyssey: Book 1: From Syria to Turkey by Fabien Toulm, published by Graphic Mundi, is part of the new wave of graphic novels. Gone are the superheroes and fantasy creatures of the past. Instead we’re treated to pictorial novels telling stories set in our world about real people.
Hakim’s Odyssey is a multi layered story. First and foremost it tells us the story of how Hakim, a Syrian refugee living in France, made the long slow trip from his homeland across Europe to France. As the title suggests Book 1 details the how and why he left Syria and made his way to Turkey via Lebanon and Jordan.
Underlying this main theme is the story of how the book was written. For Hakim, whose name has been changed for fear of repercussions against his family still in Syria, is a real person. So part of the novel details Toulm interviewing Hakim at his new home in France.
Toulm opens the story with an explanation as to why he decided to create this title. He describes hearing the news of how a commercial airline pilot committed suicide by flying his plane filled with passengers into a mountain. While the death of the hundreds of people was rightly referred to with horror on the news, he began to wonder why the deaths of thousands of refugees trying to make it across the Mediterranean wasn’t front page news.
Thinking it was because they were faceless entities whom nobody could identify with he decided to attempt to rectify that situation by bringing one of these people to life. Hopefully this would allow more people to understand what was driving them to risk life and limb to leave their homes.
Hakim tells us his story through Toulm’s drawings and writing. It starts with Hakim describing life in Syria. While initially his life growing up and starting his own business sounds pretty much like anyone living anywhere he gradually fills us in with details of how Syria is different.
Since 1970 the country has been ruled by one family, the Assads. First the father and now his son, rule the country. Through Hakim’s descriptions of life in Syria we not only learn how corrupt the system of governance is we also learn of the sense of fear instilled in everyone from the time they are children.
Even in school as a child Hakim knew it wasn’t wise to ask questions about anything or you could get in trouble. As he grows up he learns to fear the dreaded security services even more. You never know who is an informer when you’re in public so you can’t even have a conversation in a coffee shop with your friends.
This is all setting the stage for the beginnings of what will become the Syrian Civil war which tore the country apart for years. Before the rest of the world became involved it started with demonstrations by students requesting simple changes in the government. While other’s were excited by the demonstrations, Hakim was frightened by how the government would respond.
Unfortunately his fears weren’t unfounded and soon people were being rounded up by the government for little or no reason.
After Hakim is taken, and only released because somebody pays a hefty bribe for his release, and then his brother disappears, he decides to try and see if he can find work in Lebanon so he can help his family. Unfortunately he runs into a problem. There’s no work in Lebanon for Syrian refugees.
In spite of having friends and family in Lebanon, and then Jordon, permanent work is hard, if not impossible, to come by. This is why Hakim eventually makes his way to Turkey where another expatriate Syrian friend lives.
Toulm’s telling of Hakim’s story does a magnificent job of putting a human face on those faceless thousands risking drowning to flee their homes. Using the popular medium of the graphic novel to tell this story may at first glance seem to be trivializing these peoples’ plight. However, it is told with such respect and integrity that their stories are made real.
Hakim’s Odyssey: Book 1: From Syria to Turkey by Fabien Toulme is a wonderful, humane, retelling of one man’s story capturing the plight of all refugees.