Zafir by Prue Mason
Through my eyes series. Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN
(Age: 13+) Recommended. Having recently arrived in the Syrian city of Homs, Zafir is relatively naive to the brutal realities of life under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and must try to discover the facts without drawing attention to himself or his family.
In happier times, Zaffir had lived with his Syrian parents in Dubai, where his father was employed as a medical doctor and returning to their homeland has exposed the family to unforeseen danger and tension.
Set at the beginning of the Syrian uprising, the story tries to explain how the populace overcame serious censorship and media control to establish a collective awareness which led to resistance against the oppressive dictatorship. The complexity of religious differences between Moslems and Christians, together with consideration of the political affiliations and influences of supporters versus opponents of the regime form the basis of the story. This is a country where to be heard criticising the President may lead to arrest, torture and murder, hence to be involved in organising protests as Zafir's uncle does is a dangerous practice.
In the prelude to this social turmoil, Zafir's life is relatively mundane as he attempts to establish a friendship with Australian girl Eleni who shares his love of skateboarding and is the daughter of a visiting Orthodox Christian Priest whose family becomes close to Zafir's. At school, Zafir's only friend Rami's father is in exile after speaking out against the regime and the boy educates Zafir with insight tinged by an understandable hint of paranoia. As Rami is bullied and maltreated in the schoolyard by the more powerful loyalist majority, Zafir is forced to make difficult decisions regarding alliances and justice, mirroring what is happening in the socio-political sphere.
An interesting feature of the tale is the consideration of social media in such uprisings. Zafir's mother uses banned Facebook to learn what is happening elsewhere and becomes vocal in calling for resistance to the regime. The reader is prompted to evaluate the potential cost in suffering, especially when online clamoring for uprising originates from unrealistic idealists or those who are safe from the consequences. Zafir's father, perhaps more aware of potential outcomes, urges a more discrete and pragmatic approach, however when circumstances demand, he responds, facing up to what could be terrifying possibilities for all his family.
Dramatising the Syrian uprising with historical accuracy precludes fanciful outcomes, however amongst the grim reality is hope for both Zafir and his tormented country.