Refuge author joins One Book discussion

November 01, 2021
Iranian-American novelist Dina Nayeri discussed the contemporary refugee experience captured in her literary work and this year’s One Book program selection, Refuge, at a recent Northwestern Qatar webinar.
The One Book program is a school-wide initiative designed to engage the community in a shared reading subject that includes a series of programs including a discussion with the author. Joining students, faculty, and staff in a virtual discussion moderated by Maria Lombard, chair of the One Book program committee, Nayeri discussed how the novel weaves in aspects of her personal experience as a refugee.
Refuge follows the journey of an eight-year-old Iranian girl, Niloo, who misses her father, who remained in Iran, and her birth country as she matures. As she transforms from a young refugee into a Westerner, Niloo loses her sense of home and finds herself entranced by a world that she sees as everything she has missed, while, at the same time, nothing that she has ever known.
Nayeri, who was just a child when she fled Iran with her mother and brother, explained that the novel resembles her struggle with displacement, which has long been part of her private life. In writing Refuge, she said that fictionalizing characters and scenarios made her focus on “moments in the arch of migration that aren’t as explored … and on the different parts of my experience that were perhaps not so central if I was to write a memoir.”
“Well-settled people with healthy lives take refuge in their family; they take refuge in mental stability, in the feeling of rootedness, in feeling that you are part of a community”
- Dina Nayeri, author of this year's One Book selection, Refuge
From refugees’ experience with alienation to family separation and their search for the lost sense of home, Nayeri explained how fiction writing helps unpack untold stories and themes of the immigrant experience. “It helps your work transcend these momentary arguments, and so it is more exciting to try to capture a moment in the history of the lives of one family without directly pointing at all the issues there may be is in the world,” she said.
For Nayeri, Refuge’s release, which coincided with the 2015 refugee crisis in the United States, highlighted family relationships as an integral part of the refugee experience and called for a look at home beyond being a physical place. “Well-settled people with healthy lives take refuge in their family; they take refuge in mental stability, in the feeling of rootedness, in feeling that you are part of a community,” she said.
Nayeri is the winner of the Geschwister Scholl Preis and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Kirkus Prize, and Elle Grand Prix des Lectrices. Her work has been published in more than 20 countries and in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Granta, and many other publications. Her short dramas have also been produced by the English Touring Theatre and The Old Vic in London.
She joins a list of writers who addressed Northwestern Qatar as part of the One Book program, including Palestinian novelist Hala Alyan, author of Salt Houses, and Omani writer Jokha Alharthi, author of Celestial Bodies.