A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return

by Zeina Abirached

Zeina Abirached was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1981, in the midst of the civil war... read more

Zeina Abirached was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1981, in the midst of the civil war that divided that city. This graphic novel memoir focuses on a single evening in her childhood—a night when her parents had gone to visit her grandmother who lived a short, dangerous distance away. The journey required a “perilous choreography” because of possible snipers and shelling. Her parents leave during a quiet period but bombardments start while they are out. Zeina and her little brother are home alone in an apartment that has been reduced to the one safe space where they spend their time—the foyer. One by one neighbors—who often join them when bullets and shells start flying—come down, at first seeking companionship but then taking responsibility to care for and comfort the children, who are worried about their parents. Each adult in turn offers reassurance or distraction, and one by one their stories are revealed, adding complexity to this tapestry depicting life in a war zone. Eventually, Zeina’s parents return, but the apartment is hit by a mortar that night. No one is hurt, but the family must leave. There is such a strong sense of friendship and community running through everything that comes before that the sense of upheaval, disruption, and loss is profound, but there is hope, too, in the knowing that Zeina will grow up to become a teller of truths and stories. Abirached’s dynamic black-and-white illustrations are both stark and beautiful, much like her story. (Age 12 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2013

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