In September 2015, the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean, drowned during his family’s attempted escape from the civil war at home. The image of Alan Kurdi has since become an indelible symbol of a humanitarian crisis that continues today, and it inspired Khaled Hosseini — the author of “The Kite Runner,” “And the Mountains Echoed” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” — to compose his first illustrated book, “Sea Prayer,” in response to this moment of individual and global devastation. “I am a father of two, so my entry point into that terrible saga was through the viewpoint of Kurdi’s father,” he said in an interview with the Book Review. “I envisioned this piece as a monologue between a father and his son, and when I sat down to write it the voice that came out was simple and I hope somewhat melodic.”
The artist Dan Williams, whom Hosseini enlisted to create a visual narrative to accompany his spare, poetic text, uses watercolors to evoke something universal. “The whole point of this project is that it’s apolitical,” Williams said. Of his painting technique, he added, “it has a lightness of touch” that serves to “allude” to the difficult subject matter rather than treat it too graphically. “Responding to Khaled’s beautiful words, I likened it to a kind of dance: At times you’re far apart and then other times you’re incredibly intimate, but it’s always a partnership.”
Hosseini said that he had written the book not only “to help keep alive the memory of Alan Kurdi, but also to pay tribute to the thousands who’ve lost their lives at sea. Let it be a reminder of the unfathomable despair that forces people to risk everything they have.” But it’s not all doom and gloom. “Light is an incredibly important part of my work,” Williams explained, “and symbolically that brings in a level of hope. There has to always be an element of hope.”
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