Ten Cultures, Twenty Lives

Refugee Life Stories

Non-Fiction - Social Issues
320 Pages
Reviewed on 01/08/2018
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Author Biography

I first encountered refugees fifteen years ago when I accepted a job in a resettlement agency in Abilene, Texas. Originally from Riga, Latvia, I was new to Texas and the United States myself and could identify with newly-arrived refugees’ struggles. During my ten years with the agency, I met and helped hundreds of people from a variety of countries. It was a totally new learning experience for me, because in the past, I could only imagine what life was like in countries like Bhutan, Cuba, Congo DR or Rwanda. Refugees sometimes told me stories about their past lives, and, being a folklore scholar, I thought, “Well, it would be an exciting project, to interview them and publish their life stories”. Still, I was too busy at resettlement work. With time passing, I felt that a refugee life story collection is becoming more urgent, mostly to prove to everyone around me that refugees are just as individual and unique as we feel about ourselves. It does not matter that I may be in a power position in the agency and a newly arrived refugee has just landed with all his possessions in one duffel bag. We are all human and we each have only one life that is filled with aspirations and dreams for future.
Also, readers rarely know what “resettlement” means and what is going on at the agency every day. I filled that gap by telling short stories of “my agency life” to tie all refugee stories together.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite

Ten Cultures, Twenty Lives: Refugee Life Stories by Daina Jurika-Owen is a powerful book that explores a socio-political phenomenon — the refugee problem. In this spellbinding, eye-opening book, the author shares the lives of refugees who, after numerous tribulations and gruesome experiences, arrive in the US and settle in Abilene, Texas. They come from different cultures and backgrounds, men and women, driven away from their homeland by war. They come from Cuba, Rwanda, Liberia, Bhutan, Congo, and other places. They are people leaving behind a whole culture and way of life to search for a place of refuge, but there is more to these stories than that. These are stories that open a whole new world to readers, allowing them to touch the very soul of the refugee and feel the conundrum from a whole new perspective.

Daina Jurika-Owen does a wonderful job in bringing these stories — both heartbreaking and inspiring — to readers. This is a book about courage, about the dreams of millions of people fleeing their countries, but it is also a book about the long road to freedom these people have had to travel. The book answers the question: What does it feel like to be a refugee? Readers are introduced to compelling characters and powerful stories that will bring tears to their eyes and inspire a deep sense of pathos in them. It is a compelling indictment of war and violence and man’s inhumanity to man. I couldn’t help thinking about a powerful video documentary as I turned from one page to the next, encountering the characters and their tenacity and grit as I read through Ten Cultures, Twenty Lives: Refugee Life Stories.

Kimberlee J Benart

Ten Cultures, Twenty Lives: Refugee Life Stories by Daina Jurika-Owen, PhD, is a collection of reminiscences by refugees who settled in Abilene, Texas during the period between 2003 and 2012, when the author worked in a resettlement agency in the city. In addition to the stories, in which the storytellers recount the events which led to their gaining refugee status, their coming to America, and their experiences with adapting to life in Abilene, Dr. Jurika-Owen provides extensive commentary on the refugee experience and the resettlement process. Hand-drawn maps of each country, photographs, and a background on the history and culture of the storytellers, who come primarily from conflict areas in Africa but also include Bhutanese-Nepali, Iraqi, and Cuban refugees, provide a framework for the stories. The author’s background as an academically trained folklorist and an immigrant herself clearly colors her heartfelt approach to the topic.

I found Ten Cultures, Twenty Lives to be enlightening. No matter your position on the political questions involved, you cannot but be affected by what you read here. Each story is told in its own voice and each storyteller’s experience and struggles are unique. Understandably, tragedy and suffering abound; but there are also triumphs, victories, hope, and even humor. Dr. Jurika-Owen a writes clean, crisp, and fully detailed narrative, providing sometimes humorous and always thoughtful insight. This book would be of great value if it contained only the stories, but the insight into the challenges and logistics of resettlement are invaluable. A fascinating read. Highly recommended.