Toulmé completes his Hakim’s Odyssey trilogy with From Macedonia to France (Graphic Mundi, Oct.), drawing from interviews with a Syrian refugee to chart a real-life journey from the war-torn Middle East to Europe.

Was Hakim the first person that you interviewed when you had this project in mind?

Yes. I didn’t want to do casting; this wasn’t a Hollywood film. It was not the goal to choose the most impressive story, or the most dramatic one. I wanted to tell one story among thousands. I wanted to be realistic and honest—with the interviewee, and with the public.

Do you think of this as a work of journalism, or translation, or maybe a conversation between you and Hakim?

I think it’s a mix. I had to explore, for example, the Syrian political situation. He was telling me his situation—the “Hakim situation”—and I had to do journalistic research to understand “the Middle East situation.” He didn’t participate in composing the book, but I had his way of expressing his odyssey, and with that I had to be like a filmmaker, to imagine the scenes and dialogue. But fidelity was important to me—Hakim told me that he wanted to transmit this story to his children, and respecting that wish was my guide.

Throughout the series, there are moments you step away from the narrative to a present-day conversation with Hakim about what happened. Why?

It’s a story that, in itself, is dramatic, so I didn’t want to increase the intensity or add special effects, but stay in the facts. But I also wanted readers to be in the head of Hakim. I wanted to represent how he’s telling me the story, and there are emotions that we are sharing. He is passing to me emotions that I pass on to the readers.

Hakim at one point compares exile to a potted plant that continues growing, “but with less vigor.” Have Hakim and his wife, Najmeh, been able to grow with vigor in France?

When you have to leave your country because you have the obligation to leave your country, because you are in danger, and have to accept help [where it comes], it can feel like you are not a real person, you are only a refugee. You have to begin another life, to know new people, to learn new languages. The social aspect, to realize that he had a fall from his former position in Syria, was difficult for Hakim.

His family has been in France now for several years, and their three children are today more French than Syrian. They are missing their country. They still have a lot of family in Syria. But I think they’re recreating the family here in France. He’s rebuilding his life.