A Land of Permanent Goodbyes Summary

Atia Abawi

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes Summary

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Highly anticipated, Atia Abawi’s young adult novel A Land of Permanent Goodbyes (2018) chronicles the harrowing journey of a young Syrian refugee, centering on themes far outside of the typical teen genre. Abawi chose the narrator of Tareq’s story with a purpose. The omniscient figure Destiny, who is always present and one step ahead of the characters, narrates. Abawi chose Destiny to present the perspectives of her characters to make the story more understandable for readers. A young adult audience might not grasp the intensity of the Syrian war through a young man’s scattered thoughts, but the concept of destiny allows them to relate to an otherwise incomprehensible topic.

Tareq, the oldest of his siblings, is used to being the protective big brother. He loves playing soccer with his younger brother Salim, He also has two younger sisters, Farrah and Susan, and twin brothers, Ameer and Sameer, who are just five months old. Though they live crammed under the same small roof as their parents, Fayed and Nour, and their grandparents, it’s undoubtedly an apartment full of love.

In 2015, the family is winding down after a humid summer day when their worst nightmare comes true: their home is bombed. Living in the midst of the Syrian war, an attack is always a possibility. The extent of the damage is unimaginable.

Buried under crumbled concrete walls and fading in and out of consciousness, Tareq’s cozy and quaint life flashes before his eyes. His mother, his grandmother sipping hot tea, and his new baby brothers float through his memory.

At the hospital, Tareq begs for information. He pleads with his doctors to find his siblings, showing them photos. He is reunited with his father, Fayed and his younger sister, Susan, but the relief only lasts a moment as he learns that the rest of his beloved family has died.

Once Tareq, Fayed, and Susan leave the hospital, they begin a journey that will change their lives forever. Fayed brings his surviving children to Raqqa where his brother Waleed lives. Waleed promises to help the family flee the country, but first, they need to save money to get to Europe. Escaping as a refugee is both dangerous and expensive; the family needs to be prepared.

Raqqa’s streets are no longer lined with trees, gorgeous architecture, and people milling about. Now, they are desolate and deprived of life. Men patrol the streets with weapons drawn and human heads are displayed on spikes at the town’s borders, an ominous threat to all incoming visitors.

Tareq’s cousin, Musa, is the main source of knowledge. For the uneducated reader, Musa works as an informative tool. As he describes the state of Raqqa since the Daesh invaded and took over (otherwise known as ISIS), we realize this is real life, real history, that is still unfolding. The brutal details Musa shares set the tone of desperation that defines the novel.

One day, Tareq and Musa venture out for some shopping. Instead, they are met with a traumatic sight: the Daesh publicly beheads a man. As they rush back home, they realize they have been followed. A group of men approaches Tareq and Musa to talk, but their intentions are clear. They are recruiters for the Daesh. Fayed and Waleed realize this and, fortunately, intervene in time to save their sons.

Panicked after this encounter, Waleed says they must get a move on immediately. The families head to Turkey. Raqqa is closed off to the public just after their departure, suggesting that they narrowly escaped. During their journey, they experience everything from sexist and racist remarks to having their money stolen by soldiers. It is exhausting and yet, the final refuge is still a ways away. On the last leg of their trek to Turkey, the group misses the bus, and they are forced to cross the border on foot.

Tareq and Musa head to Istanbul to make money for their families. Fayed stays with Susan in Gaziantep, trying to provide her some sense of normalcy after losing most of her family and of her home. Home, as it relates to one’s identity, is a common motif throughout the novel, especially as Tareq struggles with leaving Syria so suddenly and without saying the proper goodbyes he feels his home deserved.

Despite working long hours and job after job, Tareq grows frustrated with life in Istanbul. Syrians are not respected and his money is often stolen from him because of their prejudice and reluctance to help refugees. He tells Musa that he wants to leave for Europe, but his cousin begs him to stay. Musa pleads with his cousin to make Turkey his home, since it will be safer and less expensive than continuing their journey, but Tareq refuses. He decides that he has to take the risk in order to secure a safer life for Susan.

Tareq meets his father and sister in Izmir. There, they meet a group of Syrians hoping to cross the sea into Greece. Tareq and Susan get on a small boat headed for a refugee camp, but Fayed stays behind.

The boat trip to Greece is one of the most unsettling parts of Tareq’s story. The boat is falling apart, taking on water, and their life jackets are just for show. The Turkish coast guard doesn’t help them. Instead, they are trying to take down the already-suffering boat, with no regard for the lives of those in it because they are refugees.

Despite a close brush with death once again, Tareq and Susan safely arrive at the refugee camp in Greece. Here, Abawi introduces a new perspective: Alexia, a local volunteer. Alexia plays a critical role in the novel when she intervenes, rescuing Susan from human traffickers, who often victimize refugees. This near miss proves that even in the safety of Europe, Tareq and Susan will continue to struggle simply because they are refugees.

Alexia organizes a dinner with the camp workers and refugees in the hope of connecting the two polar opposite groups. Under a tent, the volunteers and refugees share stories with one another, ending the novel on a hopeful and heartwarming note.