Home Is Beyond The Mountains

When the Turkish army invades northwestern Persia in 1918, nine-year-old Samira and her parents, brother, and baby sister are driven from their tiny village. Taking only what they can carry, they flee into the mountains, but the journey is so difficult that only Samira and her older brother survive. Shunted from one refugee camp to another, from Persia to Iraq and back again, Samira finally ends up in an orphanage, where it seems that she will live out her childhood. Then Susan Shedd, the new orphanage director, arrives and, to Samira’s amazement, announces that she will take all the children back to their villages to make new lives for themselves. With wonder and fear, Samira and three hundred other orphans embark on an epic march of three hundred miles through the mountains towards home.

One thought on “Home Is Beyond The Mountains

  1. Pritchard & Aziz says:

    Seemi’s Take
    Children going through hardships, due to forces larger than themselves such as: unrest, war, and geopolitical/governmental reasons, is always heart wrenching. The displacement of children particularly girls is an ongoing issue. I had a vague idea about this historical event but was not clear about what actually happened. I was struck by the manner in which a momentous historical event was given credence through the representation of hardships that Assyrians underwent along with the widespread Armenian genocide. However, the Turkish side was not given voice within the book.
    The story seemed more about the foreign help (“West as savior” concept was predominant), the orphanage and its workings and various directors and staff rather than anything else. I was not able to connect to the characters much. There seemed to be a huge disconnect with the other 150-300 or so orphans within the story and Samira and her brother Binyamin till almost the last quarter of the story. Samira’s friend, Anna’s character was not contributing to the story except sporadically when she actually had something to say. The entrance of Elias and later under Shed, was what redefined a new sort of family for Samira, as did the concept of “home” in a tent and later the orphanage. Samira’s perseverance throughout the upheavals was what held the story together.
    Susan Shed’s entrance into the story lent it depth and action even though, there was no explanation of why the woman’s wearing of ‘trousers’ was such a big deal. I mean I can understand considering the day and age of the setting but I thought things were left hanging by the author. Her ability to organize, be foresighted, and inspire the kids and make them think was well documented. This is more a narrative of what one person could achieve if they put their minds to it. The walk itself was very well organized by Shed and the kids and therefore successful.
    The ending was logical when Benyamin wants to stay in the city of Tabriz but Samira wants to go home to her village and Anna goes with her. Elias, on the other hand, at six years of age decides to stay back in the orphanage and refuses to leave with Samira and Anna. This was a little strange for me. I thought the girls would want him with them. But then the characters had a quiet acceptance of what life doles out to them. The guidance of the orphanage director and staff goes on till the end in the placing of each orphan either within their homes or some place safe where they could have a future.
    Commenting on the storytelling ability of the author I thought it left a lot to be desired. I found the story a little boring and monotonous. The character development and growth was simplistic and linear. The most heart-wrenching moments in the narrative were represented as mundane. Climax was nonexistent even when Samira’s mother dies and her brother runs away to reach his village. I did appreciate Binyamin coming back with the realization that they had to stick together, even though he does precisely leave his sister in the end.
    Gail’s Take
    There were quite a few things I liked about Home Is Beyond the Mountains: It is based on a true story, it has strong female characters, and there is rich description.
    I know virtually nothing about this region, particularly during the time period covered in this novel, so I was excited when Seemi suggested this as one of our reads. In the author’s notes, Lottridge explains that her mother and aunt were born in Persia and her aunt, Susan Shedd, returned there at the end of the World War I to direct an orphanage. Lottridge utilized family stories, family letters, and newspaper articles to recreate the fleeing of Persians from the Turkish forces in 1918 and the displacement of children orphaned as a result.
    Samira is a highly likeable, central character. She has a deep inner strength that surfaces in times of crisis and keeps her steady throughout the years of her displacement; she has a big heart that envelops all those around her, especially her “Rooftop” family; and she has a love for her home and all that it represents–good and bad. Susan Shedd, the director of the orphanage is a remarkable young woman. She was born and raised in Persia, but left at 15 to attend school, returning at the end of WWI to become the director of an orphanage. She is independent, strong-willed, full of energy, involves the children in decision-making, and is determined to help them return to their homes. I “get” Susan Shedd–she reminds me of my mother and aunt–both who were way ahead of their time. Anna is a keen observer. She illustrates the stories Samira tells and she notices how the British soldiers liked “things to be written down,” ultimately she demanded a letter from Nurse McDonald saying Samira, Anna, and Elias were to be kept together like a family. This foresight proved invaluable later in the story.
    I appreciate the descriptive details Lottridge offers throughout the novel. I could picture Samira on the rooftop of her home watching her brother and friends play and the soldiers stealing from their garden. I could see the families fleeing from their homes, discarding their belongings along the way. I could picture the mountains, the plains, and later the tents and buildings of the orphanages.
    Juxtaposed against the strength and resilience of the orphans is the Westerner as savior theme, as Seemi noted above. When all is said and done, the orphans are still directed by those running the orphanages–all outsiders on a “mission” of one kind or another. Relatedly is the notion of “omission.” Lately, I’ve read a lot of harsh novels–harsh in the sense of the painful reality for many young people. At first, I was surprised there was never the moment where Samira thought, “I’m just a kid; I can’t do this” or the inevitable violence directed toward the vulnerable–especially children on their own. Is this an omission? Perhaps, but at some point, I decided that was not the kind of story Lottridge is telling.

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