I’m having SUCH a slow reading month this month, this is only the fourth book I’ve finished! Acquired from NetGalley on 19 September with thanks to Scribner for making it available for an honest review.

This wonderful book, just published, is set at South High school in Denver, in the first ESL classroom children (loosely defined, as they’re young people up to the age of around 20) find themselves in when they arrive in the US as refugees. The author gets involved with twenty young people in one class (they arrive throughout the year) for a year, sharing their stories in the classroom and the background they give about their lives before reaching the US. She visits the families of a few of them, along with interpreters. In addition , she shares research on education, refugees and trauma and the histories of some of the many countries they come from, and she even visits the Democratic Republic of Congo to trace the relatives of a pair of brothers and experience the camp they lived in before managing to emigrate.

Mr Williams, the main class teacher, and the other class teachers, assistants, volunteers and interpreters, as well as ex-students of his who pop back in, are all committed to helping these young people settle in and learn about America, and it’s heartwarming to read about all the details of how they learn and are taught. Thorpe basically sat in on hours of classes, so there’s loads of detail which is fascinating.

It’s all set of course against the backdrop of Trump’s ascendancy, and we see the effect it has on the population at large and the young people we have learned all about. I’m not going to go into politics here, but I couldn’t help think of myself and friends at the anti-Muslim-travel-ban demo in my home city at the very time the events in the book are taking place.

It’s a lovely book, with harsh realities and struggles but also perseverance, kindness and hope. The author and her interpreters become interwoven into the subjects’ lives in a way that she states journalists shouldn’t really be, but which brings her so much joy. She’s fascinated and open-minded, accepting how little she knew about the world as a middle-aged, white American (for example, did you know that many African languages have huge numbers of loan-words from Arabic, because of trade, so that a person from Syria and one from DR Congo can find words they have in common?). She proudly reports the progress of the students: all progress and some do mind-blowingly well.

Although this was preaching to the choir in my case, I think this should also be required reading for people whose experience maybe hasn’t included many people that are different to them. An excellent read that will stay with me for a while.


I am finishing off “The Flight from the Enchanter” so any Iris Murdoch Readalong folks will have the opportunity to discuss very soon. It’s been a funny month, that’s all I can say – and sorry for the delay!