Reviews and Media

MORE TO THE STORY-CONVERSATIONS WITH REFUGEES, by Rosemary Sayer

Steven Carroll for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times

This collection of refugee’s tales goes behind the headlines and policy debates to put a human face to the issue that has divided the country for years. Among those Sayer interviewed is Paul, one of many Karen people from Burma who fled the country because pro-democracy protesters were being shot by government forces. Paul narrowly missing a massacre. And John, who left Afghanistan because the Taliban were cleansing the country of the Hazara people and he would have been shot or dismembered had he not taken a leaky boat to Australia, where he is now a community leader. One of his sons plays for Cambridge United in the UK second-division. There are many stories of tragedy and triumph here that the country might hear one day above the sloganising.

William Yeoman, Literary Editor for The West Australian

“Death is nothing like what you see in the movies” says one of Rosemary Sayer’s interlocutors of the horrors he witnessed before fleeing his homeland. Persecution in Burma, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Detention on Nauru and life in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border. A new home in cultural melting-pots such as Mirrabooka and Katanning. Throughout, Sayer brings a journalist’s eye and a humanitarian’s heart to presenting these compelling first-person accounts by refugees who have suffered – and survived. The stories are personal, powerful and emblematic of traumas and triumph. But by providing hard statistics, legal definitions of terms and historical and political context, Sayer ensures the emotive power of the individual voice is amplified rather than diminished by the inescapable reality of hard facts. In relations to what these men and women have witnessed, one phrase recurs throughout the book: “impossible to imagine”. Sayer has now made it less so.

William Yeoman has also written an article on the book which is now online.

Right Now – Human Rights in Australia

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees by Rosemary Sayer is an important collection of stories told by individuals who came to Australia seeking refuge, and provides personal insight into the questions so often raised within political forums, which arguably drowns out the voices that matter most in the mainstream debates about refugees. (The book) expertly weaves together not only conversations with refugees but the historical and socio-political backdrops that have forced them to flee their countries for shelter in Australia. As Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers increasingly becomes a political and moral issue, it is well worth reading this book to hear authentic voices.

You can read the full review here.

The Big Book Club

More to the Story is one of the books featured in April by the Big Book Club. Some quotes from various reviewers on this site are:

  • “This book should be read by all Australians, particularly those responsible for policy, or the portrayal of new arrivals to Australia in the media.”
  • “This book is well worth reading. It is both challenging and informative. It begins with a succinct and clear summary of the political agenda behind Australia’s treatment of boat people, and a definition of terms which provide a good foundation.”
  • “This has made me think about asking people ‘where they are from’, ‘how long have you been here’ and questions like this – maybe they want to move forward, maybe they don’t want to be stuck in their past, and maybe they are just as Australian as I am.”
  • Thanks to Rosemary for opening my eyes to the plight of refugees.”
  • “Rosemary Sayer aims to ‘shine a light on individual refugees, to give a voice to just a few, and in the process to remind us that we are all human and all have a story’. Hopefully this will help to reach her aim of starting to be a more inclusive and welcoming country.”

Elke Power, Readings

Rosemary Sayer’s collection of interviews with refugees in More to the Story goes behind the blinding haze of rhetoric and manipulated, selective statistics to reveal real stories of how people become refugees at the mercy of the international community. Sayer shares the accounts of displaced people without embellishment – there is no need to exaggerate the horror, heartbreak and sheer arbitrariness of birth or circumstance that precipitates the need for a person to flee their original home, the manifold traumas that often follow, and the complexities of relief and new hope if safety is attained.

This is a deeply affecting and timely book. At a time like this when every day seems to reveal a despicable new violation of the most basic of human rights, it is heartening that there are writers like Rosemary Sayer and Chris Nguyen, and publishers such as Margaret River Press and Rag & Bone Man Press, who undertake projects like these not only because the stories are compelling and should be told, but because they care about the ethical health of our country and the plight of people who have simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, as any of us could.

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

More to the Story, conversations with refugees is…a good-hearted book. It is written with good intentions: it’s more than a gesture, it’s emblematic of a grassroots movement to change things because it’s written in hope that it can change the minds of people who are hostile to refugees. Its ambitious aim is to generate attitudinal change so that our political parties move away from their present punitive policies.

The title is purposeful: the book offers ‘more to the story’ than we see in the media.  The refugee issue has become so vexed in Australia that labels and stereotypes have become the norm, so much so that even the language used has become debased. Having dealt with the language that muddies the water here in Australia, Sayer then goes on to tell the individual stories of her subjects.  Each one of them, then, becomes a person instead of a statistic or a representative of a ‘problem’. It is the juxtaposition of horror with the placid lives so many Australians enjoy that makes this book different to other well-meaning books in this genre. Sayer doesn’t moralise, she personalises.

You can read the full review here.

Writing WA, the peak body for writing and associated activities in WA

In More to the Story Rosemary Sayer charts her own experience of meeting and interviewing several refugees who have settled in Western Australia. Given the serious and heartbreaking plight of refugees around the world, one might expect the stories to be difficult to read. On the contrary there is much joy and hope to be found within these pages. Whilst Sayer does not shy away from the horror, frustration, isolation and fear that characterises the refugee’s journey, the enduring spirit of humanity shines through as does the positive contribution that these people are making to our lives in Australia. A must read!

Sarah McNeill for Post Newspapers

In her new book, More to the Story – conversations with refugees, which was launched this week, Rosemary Sayer tells seven stories by refugees from Burma, Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Sudan. They are compelling stories of different people from different backgrounds, communities and religions, but all with the same desire – to be with their loved ones and to raise their children in safety. Rosemary said: “I thought I was well informed about refugees and government policies, but what we never take into account is the trauma, not just of leaving their homes and families but of coming to a foreign country that offers all the overwhelming choices that we take for granted.”

Chris Saliba – Books+Publishing magazine

‘If the Taliban caught me they would slowly cut off my body parts: one finger one day, another one tomorrow, an ear the next day, a hand a few days later,’ explains John Nazary on his decision to take the risky journey to Australia by boat. As a persecuted Hazara in Afghanistan, these were the terrible choices he faced. More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees consists of a series of in-depth interviews with refugees from Burma, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Rosemary Sayer, a former journalist, sensitively explores human stories that are full of tragedy and courage. For Australians who have always enjoyed stable government, a prosperous economy and social cohesion, it is a shock to read of those fleeing murderous regimes, dire poverty and deep ethnic hatreds. People are violently separated from their families, tortured and spend years of uncertainty in refugee camps. Sayer’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on Australia’s refugee experience. She mixes research, her own personal journey and a range of compelling refugee stories that exhibit extraordinary personal strength and resilience. More to the Story fulfils its brief admirably: it provides understanding, depth and nuance to a subject that is often discussed in heated headlines.

Chris Saliba is co-owner of North Melbourne Books and a freelance reviewer

Write Note Reviews

The book shares personal stories of former refugees and asylum seekers from Burma, Afghanistan and South Sudan who were interviewed by Sayer. Their words weave in with her thoughts, observations and contextual narrative, creating a deeply personal book on many levels. I’m with Rosemary Sayer. I believe these stories need to be told so that conversations are better informed, so that more compassion is offered, and better political and Government decisions are made.

You can read the full review here.