cover image The Good Deed

The Good Deed

Helen Benedict. Red Hen, $19.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-63628-112-4

Benedict revisits the terrain of her nonfiction account Map of Hope and Sorrow (with Eyad Awwadawnan) for a complex and heartbreaking story of Syrians living at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos. The plot involves a search for a refugee named Farah and her five-year-old daughter, Dunia, who were separated from fellow refugees Amina, Leila, and Nafisa when the boat carrying mother and child capsized at sea. Aiding in the effort are Hilma, an American artist temporarily staying on the island; and Kosmos, her Airbnb host. While Hilma is out for a swim, she happens upon Dunia, hypothermic and near lifeless, and manages to wrest her onto the shore. Hilma becomes possessed by a longing to be Dunia’s caregiver, even nicknaming her “my little fish.” Kosmos tries to dissuade Hilma; Greek law forbids them from sheltering a refugee and they’d be arrested. Parallel story lines follow Amina, Leila, and Nafisa as they seek asylum, encountering prejudice and roadblocks along the way. Near the end, Benedict reveals the hidden reason for Hilma’s desperation to take custody of Dunia. Long scenes of dialogue between the refugees, their advocates, and interrogating authorities read like transcriptions, but each of the characters’ perspectives is nuanced and carefully wrought. Benedict has crafted an involving tale of a humanitarian crisis. (Apr.)

This review has been updated for clarity.