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City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  2,291 ratings  ·  339 reviews
To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a 'nursery for terrorists'; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.

Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Picador
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Melissa Lindsey
This. book. wrecked. me. So much preventable suffering and death. Pointless and heartbreaking.

I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop thinking about the families who have spent the majority (in some cases ALL) of their lives in a refugee camp. I can't stop thinking about the stories that my own students and friends could tell about their experiences with camp life and the events that drove them to flee to what they assumed would provide health and safety.

Rawlence tells the story of refugee
Kristy K
While I found his book informative and relevant, I felt that the emotional aspect of discussing refugees was missing. I never felt moved like I thought I would. These stories are tragic, resilient, and even hopeful at times, but the writing seemed to be very straight-forward and I wish we could have better felt what these people went and go through. Still, it was a good read.
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, somalia, kenya
I already knew a lot about Dadaab, since I had been fascinated by the idea of a refugee camp where people lived for generations and lived, worked, and died there. I was familiar with the horrors of the 1992 civil war which started in Somalia by reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book. And I also happened to watch a very interesting documentary on Dadaab. So I had a good idea about the basics. But Ben Rawlence really showed a deeper and much more intense side of the camp itself.

The civil war of 1992 in
Brenda A
Dec 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Goodreads Giveaway. Yay!

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, the author did exhaustive investigation into these people's lives. That much is obvious. The harder thing is that it doesn't seem to have any organization or direction, and it read pretty dryly.

This is a huge culture shock, and I think that was ultimately the point. I had no idea this refugee camp existed, let alone that it is the largest ever. I had no idea there were so many disadvantaged people, with limited
Mikey B.
This book describes life in what is likely one of the world’s largest refugee camps. It is in northern Kenya near the border to Somalia and called Dadaab. Most of the refugees are from war-torn Somalia, with some from Sudan and Ethiopia.

We come away with a portrayal of the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants. Many have spent their entire lives in Dadaab which was formed on 1991. Its’ population is around 400,000 but this fluctuates and Dadaab like any city is broken down into different areas.

Description: Ben Rawlence tells the stories of just a few of the forgotten thousands who make up the half a million stateless citizens of Dadaab - the world's largest refugee camp, in the desert of northern Kenya, close to the Somali border, where only thorn bushes grow.

The author, a Swahili speaker, and former researcher for Human Rights Watch in the horn of Africa made several long visits to the camps over the course of four years. His account bears
Jan 12, 2019 marked it as unable-to-finish
I am stopping at page 175. As much as I am interested in learning more about the "world's largest refugee camp," I don't like the structure of the book and am finding it too much work to read. Rawlence jumps from profile to profile and I had trouble keeping track of all the various people. A review I read compared it to "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" - but I don't think it is in the same league at all.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a good book on an important topic. Dadaab is an enormous refugee camp with several hundred thousand residents, located in a desert area of Kenya near the border with Somalia. For nearly 25 years, Somalis fleeing civil war and famine at home have come to the camp – at this point, an entire generation has grown up there (and roughly 60% of the residents are children). Dadaab is mostly funded through foreign aid, but Kenya has always wanted rid of the refugees and made repeated attempts to ...more
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Dadaab is a city in Northern Kenya that has been a UN refugee "city of thorns". Only thorn bushes grow there. And structures are often mud/thorn construction.

It's a non-fiction book that reads like fiction. It's Ben Rawlence's "eyes" and experience with the individuals who core the nine real life stories. Sections with maps and lists of the residents that are included within the book precede the main copy.

And you will need them.

For all is the enemy and these lives often become seated in Dadaab
Jill Mackin
I felt a great sense of sadness reading this book.
A city of broken dreams. A city of broken promises. A city of outcasts. A city of forgotten people.

A sadly fascinating picture of life in Dadaab a massive refuge camp in Kenya. Populated mostly by Somalians, it also has Sudanese, Ethiopians, Eritreans and others fleeing from wars, famines or strangely enough a better life that can be found in the camp.

The author focuses on nine people. Some have been there since 1992. Some born there. Some are relative newcomers. They rely on aid and the grey
Sophie Potter
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaway-wins
Please note: I received this book from a Goodreads Advance Giveaway.

I found this to be a gripping insight into the lives of people living in a refugee camp. It is largely unflinching and deals with the stark reality of resource shortages, and the fear that comes with never knowing where the enemy is. The author tells the stories of several different people and their families, and I feel portrays their experience with candour. In this time of world unrest, I think this book is particularly
Lars K Jensen
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
I couldn't quite decide on whether I wanted to award this book with four or tree stars. I ended up with four of them; let me explain why.

First of all, you have to separate this book in two: 1) The subject it is covering (the history behind and life in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab) and the way it is written and telling you these things.

If it was only a matter of the first, it would be a solid five stars. We need to be told about places like this and the situations and crises behind
Liz Janet
Oct 26, 2017 rated it liked it
It seems that with the recent “European Refugee Crisis” the issue of refugee camps has finally come to the front burner in Western news circles, and this book gives a pretty good depiction of what it is like being a refugee in Dadaab, which was the largest one until this year, when it was surpassed by Bidi Bidi, also in Africa.

“… it was the rhetorical question posed in the newsletter that had the biggest impact among Guled’s traumatized generation: ‘Why invade a country that has been fighting a
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
‘Caught between the ongoing war in Somalia and a world unwilling to welcome them, the refugees can only survive in the camp by imagining a life elsewhere. It is unsettling: neither the past, nor the present, nor the future is a safe place for a mind to linger for long. To live in this city of thorns is to be trapped mentally, as well as physically, your thoughts constantly flickering between impossible dreams and a nightmarish reality. In short, to come here you must be completely desperate.’
I managed to make it through the most painful moments of this, but when I closed the book on the last page, I cried. I can't name what I was feeling except maybe to call it pure distilled empathy. We are all the same, we are all the same; to those who hurt we owe so much, we give so little...

It's going to take some time to collect my thoughts beyond that.
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a bleak, eye-opening account of life in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp. I was not even aware of the existence of this camp (more like a town, with population estimates running between 400k to 800k, depending on who you believe, at the time of writing). It covers well the circumstances which lead many there, as well as the conditions which they undergo in their daily quests for survival. Hemmed in by religious militants on one side and a hostile foreign government on the other, ...more
May 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
After spending a very fitful night, tossing and turning with images of blown out buildings, dust, rubble, amputaions, bullets and lifeless terrain, I decided to put this book aside. Though we all need to educate ourselves about the atrocities going on in our world, this book, though very informative, lacked character grounding. Laden with one dismal situation after another, we didn't get a good enough sense of the real person. They seemed generic, fleshed out with circumstance but not self.
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it
An ambitious effort to describe life in an enormous UN Refugee Camp in Kenya. From my comfortable seat in the US, it's difficult to comprehend this life, with starvation, inadequate sanitation, educational, and medical facilities, topped with corruption and violence in the political arena. Rawlence does a good in helping to sort out these complexities.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-politics
Available as a twelve-hour audiobook download.

I listened to part of this book while getting a root canal. It is excellent for this purpose. It put my root canal into perspective.

I sometimes run into people who refuse to read (or listen to) books because they are “too depressing”. This book might fit into this category. Grinding misery does not generally, contrary to myth, bring out the best in people, but instead often reduces them to a worn-out nub of a human, quarrelsome and grasping at drug
Anne Chappel
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a journey into a world that most of us can hardly imagine. The description of the desolation of Dadaab is mind blowing - the heat, dust and lack of what most of us think of essentail for reasonable life is staggering. Against this backdrop, Rawlence tells the story a just a few of the people who find themselves there - year after year - trying to establish an existence and trying to hope for a better future. Few countries wants these refugees - the Kenyan government vilifies them and ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
An astonishing read for someone whose New England town has just welcomed a family of Ethiopian refugees fresh from 12 years in a different Kenyan refugee camp. Those of us born into safe, secure communities couldn’t possibly imagine challenges like this. What an eye opener.
reviewing a book like this can be a tricky prospect as there are two issues to consider: the importance of the material; and the quality of the writing.

on the first count, rawlence has given readers an important and necessary work. on the second count, i found the style inconsistent and, at times, difficult to follow. not because the language was hard or inaccessible (though he does, periodically, like to throw out $5 words which end up sticking out like sore thumbs, heh), but because of how
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
When dealing with tragedies as large-scale as some of those on the Horn of Africa, it's easy to get distracted by the number of people affected. This book avoids that issue by focusing on individual stories within the refugee camp, and for the first half is very effective at doing so. The second half drags due to several rounds on international politics, but overall, a thoughtful book.
Oct 15, 2016 rated it liked it
"City of Thorns" is a nonfiction account about the very recent history of Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. It's in Kenya, and it's inhabited primarily by Somalis, but also by Sudanese, Congolese and even some Kenyans. The author made seven extended visits to the camp beginning in 2011 as a researcher for Human Rights Watch. He tells his story chronologically, along the way particularly chronicling the lives of nine of the refugees. His ability to tell their stories in great detail ...more
Rawlence brought the scale of the largest refugee camp in the world, with a population of half a million, into sharp perspective by focusing on the lives of 9 refugees who fled Somalia in desperation and ended up in conditions that were nearly as bad. Through the experiences of these men and women, he illuminated the plight of people in Dadaab Refugee Camp whose lives are truly suspended without acceptable choices. Return to Somalia is too dangerous; Kenya government does not want to host this ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I sometimes find it a mistake to read other reviews before reading a book since that can influence my own feelings on it, and I think that was the case here too. Several of the reviews I had read criticized the number of people profiled and Rawlence's writing, and I found that at least partially true: there are a lot of named individuals in the book and it's hard to keep them all straight, and there were times that someone was mentioned who seemed to be one of the recurring characters and I ...more
Hannah Cobb
Jan 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The world's largest refugee camp is a city built of mud and thorns in northern Kenya. City of Thorns narrates the lives of nine men and women--of different nationalities, cultures, and religions--out of the half million residents of the camp.
Despite its engaging narrative style, this wasn't a book I could read through in one sitting. It's heavy reading, for obvious reasons, though the strength and personality of each of the nine people brought to life here also shine through some of the dark
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
Ben Rawlence tells the stories of just a few of the forgotten thousands who make up the half a million stateless citizens of Dadaab - the world's largest refugee camp, in the desert of northern Kenya, close to the Somali border, where only thorn bushes grow.

The author, a Swahili speaker, and former researcher for Human Rights Watch in the horn of Africa made several long visits to the camps over the course of four years. His account bears vivid witness to the
JL Driver
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had won the opportunity to read this book ahead of it's January 2016 release date from the 'giveaways' section.

I really enjoyed this book. The text is easy to read and it details the lives of nine individuals and how they each found themselves in Dadaab; the worlds largest Refugee camp.

The conditions that lead them there, the conditions they live in and continue to adapt in.

It was interesting to read how long it took for the world to hear about the camp, start fundraising for the camp through
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Ben grew up in Wiltshire in the UK before studying in London, Tanzania and the USA. He worked for several years in New York and then in politics in the UK and in Tanzania before joining Human Rights Watch where he worked from 2006-2013.

He was an Open Society Foundations Fellow 2013.

He is represented by Sophie Lambert at Conville and Walsh in London.
“But Ethiopia and America were nervous of an Islamic government and the US and other nations sponsored Ethiopia to invade Somalia and dispatch the ICU. This they did in 2006 with astonishing speed, force and cruelty, pounding Mogadishu to rubble and blazing a trail of looted homes, massacred civilians and raped women across the country, while those who had paid for the invasion looked away. With” 0 likes
“Al-Shabaab seemed right about many things. The newsletter said that international aid was brought to ruin Somali agriculture and to make people dependent on foreign food; both had indeed been side effects of the relief effort. They said that the West wanted Somalis to be held in ‘camps, like animals’, which could be an accurate description of Dadaab. Most of all though, it was the rhetorical question posed in the newsletter that had the biggest impact among Guled’s traumatized generation: ‘Why invade a country that has been fighting a civil war for a decade and a half the moment they have decided to live in peace?’ The Islamic Courts Union had brought peace. It had been wildly popular and Somalis resented the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion. ‘The United States cannot abide a situation in which Islam is the solution,’ the newsletter argued. And to many that seemed like the truth. The” 0 likes
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