Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations

Banthology challenges nations being cut off and silenced, and features work from authors from the seven countries impacted by Donald Trump's 2017 travel ban

Book Review by Heather McDaid | 25 Jan 2018
  • Banthology
Book title: Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations
Author: Edited by Sarah Cleave

In January 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States of America. It stands as one of the country’s most divisive laws in modern times. Banthology challenges nations being cut off and silenced, instead bringing together stories from these seven banned nations, translated to English.

The breadth of writing in this fleeting seven story collection is at times satirical, at times surreal, and often a gut punch as they unravel themselves to devastating effect. The Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling – Syria’s contribution by Zaher Omareen – is a wry consideration of displacement and the journey to reach a new and better place; Najwa Binshatwan’s Return Ticket – hailing from Libya – begins as a heartfelt letter to the character’s grandson, outlining fantastical tales and wonders of the village of Schrödinger. The implications and importance of people's journeys interweave themselves through each story.

Anoud’s Storyteller is a stand out: beginning with memories of their first air raid experience, then bunker, then the death of a friend… It is remarked that as children they thought war was some kind of game, ‘like the Arabic-dubbed GI Joe cartoon on TV’, but the reality leaves them petrified. The slowly escalating war-torn surroundings are punctuated by political broadcasts from America – George W. Bush saying how much America cares about the Iraqi people, the implementation of this seven-nation ban from the States – to show the dichotomy of war, from those discussing it from afar and those living it.

Banthology aims to give voice to and better understand a set of nations who have been writ off in one sweeping stereotype, and it does so. Those in power try to silence many voices – this is a triumphant refusal to let that happen. [Heather McDaid]

Comma Press, 25 Jan, £9.99