It started as a weekly, non-fiction, comic strip in the New York Times and went on to win the prestigious Pulitzer award for editorial cartooning in 2018. It was then compiled into a book called Welcome to the New World. Written by Jake Halpern and illustrated by Michael Sloan, the graphic novel is based on the life story of the Adalbaans, a Syrian family trying to flee the civil war in the country. Both Halpern and Sloan spent three years with the family after the Adalbaans arrived in the United States of America on November 8, 2016 which also happens to be Election Day, following which Donald Trump was elected the president of the country. They spent all this time learning of the struggles in the past and the challenges they face in the present. And all the time spent by them results in a brilliant graphic novel
Welcome to the New World may sound like a warm and inviting title. But the book is actually a rather more serious read. It follows the struggle of the family escaping war and moving to a completely different country, tailing the family from its move from Jordan where they were living in exile to America with hopes for a better, secure future.
The illustrations are a bit on the minimalistic side (do not expect a riot of colour and details – it is mainly blue, black and white) but combined with the text, they beautifully demonstrate different phases of the lives of the family members – how they moved from Jordan to America, how they were anxious about leaving their family behind or how they feared the could lose it all at a security check. The book also highlights the trauma they faced back in Syria – the father getting jailed, and how the eldest son of the family (a mere teenager himself) had to become the man of the family, and walk through war torn and highly volatile areas to bring bread back home.
Then come the problems they face after coming to the USA ( the “New World”). Learning a new language, the constant worry of their family back home, the challenge of being a skilled worker yet having to pick odd jobs to become self-sufficient in a small frame of time, dealing with past trauma…and as if that were not enough, handling new ones such as death threats along with the worry of having their visas revoked. Yes, the Adalbaans get some community support and local volunteers help them out, but nevertheless, all of these problems loom over their head like a big, dark cloud right through the book.
Welcome to the New World also draws a beautiful parallel between the minds of the first generation refugees who are apprehensive of leaving the rest of their family and their homeland behind even as the second generation dreams the American dream. It weaves a story around the lives of these individuals as separate pieces of a tapestry that come together to form a wider picture, making you understand the struggles of an individual refugee of a certain age and their battle of adjustment as a family.
Welcome to the New World tells the story of people who have literally lost it all and are struggling to find their place in a New World, a world in which many see them as a nuisance and even as parasites. But even though the book tells such an intense and thought provoking tale, it does so without making you drown in sorrow. It asks for no sympathy or pity, just empathy and understanding, and will leave you with a gently aching heart for a family that gave up everything – from their property to their past – for the hope of a better life.