A Handfull of Stars

Rafik Schami’s young adult novel A Hand Full of Stars details three years of a young Syrian boy’s life as he attempts to come into his own during the turbulent decades that ensued after Syrian independence in 1946. The book shows the difficulties of life under an unstable government, whose leadership was constantly changing due to coups. Throughout the story the protagonist faces the challenges imposed on him by his family, society and the political structure of the time, and he is forced to reconcile these with his own personal aspirations of becoming a journalist.

Although the story is written primarily for a young audience the reader can easily identify with the problems faced by the protagonist as he attempts to balance the expectations of his family, his love life and his professional desires. However, as opposed to the relatively comfortable and stable position that the Western reader has experienced during their youth, the protagonist’s journey is shaped by the repressive political structure that defined Syria between 1949 and 1970. In this light, the reader is exposed to the added difficulties that citizens of such nations must cope with in addition to the everyday challenges that everyone faces during their teenage years. This point is further developed and exemplified by the constant comparisons of life in Syria as opposed to Europe and America that the protagonist and his friends frequently discuss.

A Hand Full of Stars gives its readers a better basis off of which to understand the situation faced by the everyday citizens of third world nations who are trapped as victims of their own governments. The book relays the precarious position that such people must endure, and gives insight into why such people might feel compelled to migrate or seek asylum in more stable countries.

by Michael Silva

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