A family of refugees from the Syrian war makes their harrowing escape to New Haven, Connecticut, in the non-fiction comic “Welcome to the New World,” with words by Jake Halpern and pictures by Michael Sloan (Metropolitan Books). Rushing to get into the United States before Trump is elected and locks the door to Muslims, they make a heartbreaking decision to leave family members behind in Jordan. The family lands at New York’s JFK airport on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016.
Halpern spent nearly a year following Ibrahim Aldabaan and his family. The resulting book is an amazing feat of reporting—including recounting the outbreak of violence in Syria, the dad’s arrest, and how the mom negotiates the dictator’s menacing bureaucracy to win her husband’s release.
In America, the story turns to job-training programs, English classes, house-hunting, high school, tensions between parents and children, then a telephoned death threat: “I’m going to chop your fucking head off … and I’ll kill your whole fucking family. I am giving you 24 hours to leave America.”
The book debuted in 2017 as a 20-part New York Times series, which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Reading the book, I kept wondering if the author and illustrator simplified the story—for younger readers or perhaps because they mistakenly fear comics can’t handle more complexity. And their ending of the family’s ongoing true story kind of just trails off.
But “Welcome to the New World” is a powerful, moving and informative window into the lives of refugees in the United States, rich with insights from the adults and children in the family, as well as the volunteers, social workers and educators who try to help them along the way.
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