Melissa Fleming

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea

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  • Features 10 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 45-page guide for “A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea” by Melissa Fleming includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 10 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Interconnected World and The Power of Humanity.

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea is a 2017 book by Melissa Fleming, telling the true story of a young girl named Doaa who fled the Syrian civil war. Made a refugee by the conflict, she travels to Egypt and then attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The book has won numerous awards.

Plot Summary 

The story opens with Doaa Al Zamel floating in the sea amid the wreckage of a ship. Her husband is already dead, and she clings to two babies, trying to keep them alive. Doaa has traveled from Syria, where she was born and raised. She has a lifelong fear of the water after nearly drowning as a child.

Doaa grows up in Daraa, a city in southwest Syria. The region is known for its agriculture, but a three-year drought beginning in 2007 decimates the local economy. But in 2001, when Doaa is six, there is still optimism. Bashar al-Assad has succeeded his father in running the country and many hope that he will dismantle the authoritarian state that his father ran for decades. Hafez al-Assad dealt with any rebellion or protest in brutal fashion. Doaa’s parents are Shokri and Hanaa. Shokri runs a barbershop but does not make much money. For years, they live with his extended family. The children they have are all daughters and, soon, Shokri’s relatives try to convince him to remarry, telling him that Hanaa will never give him a son. Shokri moves his family into a small apartment in a bad neighborhood. Doaa, a shy young girl, struggles to cope with the change.

In 2004, when the family moves again, Doaa once again struggles. She dreams of being proactive and useful, having little interest in marriage. One day, she announces that she wants to be a policewoman. Shortly after, the Arab Spring spreads revolution across Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Protest graffiti in Daraa leads to the arrest and torture of three young boys. The locals are outraged and stage peaceful protests throughout the city. The police use violence to break up the protests and Doaa watches on, intrigued. One day, Doaa and her family are travelling to a relative’s house and witness a violent clash between the protestors and the police. Doaa begins to realize that all of her beliefs about her country are wrong. She begins to attend the protests and nearly gets caught. In April 2015, the government sends the military into the city and places it under lockdown. Doaa and her family must stay in their home all day. Food is scarce and the use of utilities is infrequent. Meanwhile, soldiers smash down doors and torture people in public parks. Doaa helps a fleeing protestor, part of what has become known as the Free Syrian Army. It gives her a feeling of triumph to be able to help her country. By the time the siege ends, hundreds are dead and thousands are either arrested or missing.

In June 2012, a missile destroys Shokri’s barbershop. With the violence escalating all around them and the conflict showing no signs of ending, the family decides to flee the country. The family crosses the border into Jordan and, from there, takes a ferry to Egypt, where the recent revolution has filled the population with optimism and people greet Syrian refugees with open arms. The family finds somewhere to live among a population of Syrian refugees near the Egyptian coast. Though shy and fearful of change, Doaa forces herself to be strong in order to support her family. She and her sister work in a factory and Doaa begins to feel useful. At this time, Doaa begins to attract the attention of a Syrian man named Bassem. Before the war, Bassem had been a successful salon owner. Then, he had fought with the Free Syrian Army and suffered torture. He had fled to Egypt after his brother’s death in the war. Though Doaa rebuffs Bassem’s advances, he does not give up. For months, he tries everything to win Doaa. When she falls sick, he pays for her hospital treatment. As she recovers, Doaa’s attitude toward Bassem begins to soften. They spend more time together and she eventually accepts his proposal. They become engaged.

At the same time, however, Egyptian attitudes toward the Syrian refugees begin to change. Many Egyptians begin to resent the Syrians’ presence and the atmosphere becomes toxic. Many refugees begin receiving violent threats. To escape, Bassem suggests that he and Doaa flee to Europe. They pay smugglers $5,000 for spots on a boat that will cross the sea to Italy. After a clandestine process, they depart for the beach at night with hundreds of other refugees. But the police are waiting. After a night of running, police throw Bassem and Doaa into a local jail. Despite their failure, they resolve to try again. After another failed attempt and another short stint in prison, Bassem and Doaa try again. This time, they reach the boat. The smugglers are crueler and rougher than ever and jam the refugees onto a cramped old boat, dodging bullets as they travel out into the Mediterranean. They spend days at sea, getting to know the other passengers. Many are in desperate conditions, trying to reach Europe for a better life. Many children are on board. They must all switch ships numerous times.

On the fourth day, less than a day from Italy, a ship crewed by an angry group of men attacks them. It rams the refugee ship, causing it to sink. In the chaos, people drown, while the boat’s propellers kill others. Bassem and Doaa find one another and float in the water, surrounded by corpses and severed limbs. For days, they float in the sea. The survivors try to band together but begin to die one-by-one. Doaa protects two babies, Malak and Masa, when their parents can no longer stay alive. After three days, Bassem cannot stay afloat any longer. He drowns, begging Doaa for forgiveness with his last breath. She forgives him. On the fourth day, with only a few people left alive, Doaa thinks she can see a plane. That night, she sees a ship and knows that she must swim toward it. The crew aboard the ship know that a refugee ship has capsized nearby. They hear Doaa’s faint cries and fish her and the babies out of the water.

Rescued, Doaa receives dry clothes and food. She is allowed to rest while the commercial ship heads for the nearest hospital. Eventually, a helicopter collects her and flies her to Greece. One of the babies dies, but another, Masa, has survived. Doctors nurse Doaa back to health in Greece and her story becomes famous in the country, where people hail her as a hero for saving the little girl. But she mourns the death of Bassem and struggles to tell her family what has happened. In Egypt, Doaa’s smugglers threaten her family because they want Doaa to stop talking to the press. Eventually, both Doaa and her family are allowed to resettle in Sweden. They reunite and begin new lives together.

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