"The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom"

Nov 17, 2017

Our guest is Helen Thorpe, a Denver-based journalist and author whose newest book, just out, is called "The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom." As noted of this work in a starred review from Publishers Weekly: "The latest work of narrative nonfiction from Thorpe ('Soldier Girls') brings readers face to face with the global refugee crisis through the story of a Denver English-acquisition class composed of teenage refugees from all over the world. Set against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the book follows the 21 students over the course of the school year -- for many, their first months in America -- as they adapt to their new lives and grow comfortable in the classroom. Their heartening stories of learning English are interspersed with comical mistranslations of American customs (the concept of a haunted house fails to track with some students who can't get past why anyone would want to make his or her house look terrifying) as well as the harsh reality of what it means to be a migrant and the difficulties of acquiring a language. Thorpe provides a layered portrait of the students and explains the daunting refugee crisis in America and elsewhere. Many of the students have harrowing stories, such those of Jakleen and Mariam, two Iraqi sisters who moved to Syria after their father disappeared, only to be forced to relocate again to Turkey and then the United States. In their new lives, the sisters form friendships with other students across language barriers, date other students, play soccer matches, and act in a play about Cesar Chavez. Along the way, Thorpe tackles the systemic issues resettlement programs face, as well as the Western world’s role in creating the crisis. Thorpe puts an agonizingly human face on a vast global problem."