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Lounge Loves: Khaled Hosseini’s ‘Sea Prayer’

Khaled Hosseini's new book is a haunting ode to the plight of refugees the world over

Illustration: Dan Williams
Illustration: Dan Williams

Unlike his usual tomes, Khalid Hosseini’s new book, Sea Prayer, is 48 pages long. But the slightness of its size is compensated by the gravity of its subject—and the beautiful illustrations by British painter Dan Williams that run through it. The images, in fact, amplify the effect of the brief narrative.

Sea Prayer was first conceived as a virtual reality film, in collaboration with United Nations High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR) and The Guardian, in 2017. Hosseini, who is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, wrote a simple but powerful script. A father speaks to his sleeping son about the city of Homs, in Syria, before it was ravaged by war. There was a time, he says, when he and his brothers woke up to the “stirring of olive trees in the breeze", the goats bleating, and the sun “a pale rim of persimmon to the east". His little son’s boyhood memories, in tragic contrast, would be of crumbling buildings and pulling the corpses of friends and family from the debris. Towards the end, we realize the entire monologue is spoken on the verge of a sea voyage, to escape in search of refuge in another land. It is a prayer to the destructive ocean to protect his son and keep him safe from harm.

The story, as Hosseini has said, was inspired by 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on the Mediterranean coast off Turkey in 2015. Kurdi was drowned with his family trying to escape to a nearby Greek island, from where they were planning to fly to Canada and seek refuge.

The Afghan-born Hosseini, whose family sought asylum in the US, where he now lives, is no stranger to the life of a refugee, though his tribulations may not have been as dire as Kurdi’s family. The publisher, Bloomsbury, will donate £1 (around 91) from the sale of each copy of the book to UNHCR.

Sea Prayer: By Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury, 48 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>499.
Sea Prayer: By Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury, 48 pages, 499.

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