City of Thorns | Granta

  • Published: 01/09/2016
  • ISBN: 9781846275890
  • 129x20mm
  • 400 pages

City of Thorns

Ben Rawlence

To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a ‘nursery for terrorists’; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.

Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. Among them are Guled, a former child soldier who lives for football; Nisho, who scrapes an existence by pushing a wheelbarrow and dreaming of riches; Tawane, the indomitable youth leader; and schoolgirl Kheyro, whose future hangs upon her education.

In City of Thorns, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Lucid, vivid and illuminating, here is an urgent human story with deep international repercussions, brought to life through the people who call Dadaab home.

City of Thorns elegantly portrays a place and its people at the very fringes of our society, yet also at the heart of its problems. Written with great integrity and insight, this is an urgent, important book that needs to be read

Owen Sheers, author, I Saw a Man

City of Thorns is a brilliant if haunting book... at once both an intimate story of redemption and hope, a prayer for the innocent, and a damning universal indictment of all those whose monstrous acts and vainglorious ambitions unleash the dogs of war

Wade Davis, author, Into the Silence

Magisterial [and] vivid... [The refugees'] predicament is extraordinary, their travails gripping... It chronicles the lives of people trapped in soul-eroding tedium, yet it moves like a thriller

Jill Leovy, LA Times

The Author

BEN RAWLENCE is a former researcher for Human Rights Watch in the Horn of Africa. He is the author of Radio Congo, and has written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, the New York Times, the London Review of Books, and Prospect. He lives in the Black Mountains in Wales with his family.

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