Author: Yusra Mardini
Full title: Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph
Publisher: St Martin’s Press, Macmillan
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Release Date: 15th May 2018
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“Being a refugee is not a choice. Our choice is to die at home or risk death trying to escape.” – Yusra Mardini Yusra Mardini fled her native Syria to the Turkish coast in 2015 and boarded a small dinghy full of refugees bound for Greece. When the small and overcrowded boat’s engine cut out, it began to sink. Yusra, her sister and two others took to the water, pushing the boat for three and a half hours in open water until they eventually landed on Lesbos, saving the lives of the passengers aboard. Butterfly is the story of that remarkable woman, whose journey started in a war-torn suburb of Damascus and took her through Europe to Berlin and from there to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Yusra Mardini is an athlete, one of People magazine’s twenty-five women changing the world, a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and one of Time Magazine’s thirty most influential teens of 2016.
I don’t normally read non-fiction/memoir type books but when this was suggested to me by someone at Macmillan, I read the blurb and immediately knew it would be an important read.
That’s the best way I can really sum this book up, it was so important. Important for Yusra’s voice to be heard and vital for people to read it and hear her voice.
The book starts out with Yusra recounting her normal life in Syria, which for her consisted of a lot of swimming, everyday. Her dad was training her and her sister since she can remember and it wasn’t long before she set her sights on the olympics – at the ripe age of six years old. It was crucial for Yusra to tell this part of her story and set the scene of her life where her and her family were happy in their home country. It is this that gives the contrast and shows the immense reluctance with which her and her sister, Sarah, eventually knew they had to leave.
When the conflict starts occurring, Yusra is sure it won’t last long. When it escalates, she is sure it will end. They all are. They are all trying to carry on with their normal lives while bombs are dropping and guns are being fired. This is a true story. Yusra is real and so is her family and so is everyone she knew in her life. The longer the conflict goes on, the more eagerly they are yearning for it to end. So many people she knows are leaving. They’re going to Turkey, to Europe. She doesn’t want to leave her home, her country.
When Yusra and Sarah eventually realise they have to leave (it’s that or wait to get hit by a bomb or wait for the war to end) they encounter a harsh and dangerous journey. Yusra’s account was so painful to read at times with the constant thought in my mind that this happened to her and thousands upon thousands of others just like her.
The memoir was told in a simple and direct manner. It was very easy to read (except when it was utterly tragic) and it had a good flow. The simple fact was, this story did not need dressing up in any way. The truth merely had to be told.
Yusra’s journey was remarkable but it wasn’t unique. So many didn’t make it and so many are still suffering in Syria. Now more than ever, this is such an important book. I really think everyone should read this. It provides an immensely powerful insight into the journey of a refugee, what they go through and most importantly – why. They didn’t want to leave home, they had to and all they really want is to be able to go back home.