The Write to Life project of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture has published A story from There to Here in which thirteen refugees record their experiences as short stories.
Established in 1997 as a therapeutic writing group, Write to Life now has twenty clients and seven volunteer professional writers. Its starting point is that everyone, however paralysed their lives seem and however uncertain their existence, can take pen to paper, ‘to let the words come out’. Letting the words come out, according to Sheila Hayman, the co-ordinator, is one of the ways that Medical Foundation clients are encouraged to lay to rest tormenting memories and to transform the ghosts of ‘shadows of long past events’ into the power of creativity. Many of the clients were already accomplished writers before they fled to the UK. ‘For them, learning to exercise that craft in a new language is a source of pride and satisfaction, as well as a valuable skill.’
The stories gathered here cover the issues one might expect from the writers who have all needed the assistance of the Medical Foundation: incarceration in an underground room ‘little wider than a pauper’s grave in a crowded graveyard’, torture, treachery, nostalgia and loss. But there is a wide variety of styles, topics and politics here. Hassan Bahri’s ‘A reporter who died from obesity’, a hilarious morality tale about the villager with the only radio who exchanges news for food, comes closest to a conventional short story. Other contributions are far more personal and touch on feelings about being in the UK: ‘Silent pain’ coldly dissects the treatment of a Black woman at the dentist; another story reflects on acute discomfiture at a middle-class poetry reading. Born in Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, Noureddin M. Hassan, who has been repeatedly imprisoned by the Israelis, offers a beautiful, heartfelt, political diatribe against the wall. It ‘confirms our status of separation and denial: the separation of one part of Palestinian history from another; the denial of humanity’s minimum requirement, freedom to breathe.’
These are not easy stories. It is not just the subject matter that disturbs: but also the metaphors, the imagery, and even the illustrations and form the stories take. But precisely because they offer so little comfort, these stories provide a deeper insight into the seismic existential upheavals that detention, torture, interrogation and flight cause.