When Asad Hussein was growing up in the world’s largest refugee camp, nearly every aspect of life revolved around getting to America—a distant land where anything was possible. Thousands of displaced families like his were whisked away to the United States in the mid-2000s, leaving the dusty encampment in northeastern Kenya for new lives in suburban America. When Asad was nine, his older sister Maryan was resettled in Arizona, but Asad, his parents, and his other siblings were left behind. In the years they waited to join her, Asad found refuge in dog-eared novels donated by American charities, many of them written by immigrants who had come to the United States from poor and war-torn countries. Maryan nourished his dreams of someday writing such novels, but it would be another fourteen years before he set foot in America.
The story of Asad, Maryan, and their family’s escape from Dadaab refugee camp is one of perseverance in the face of overwhelming adversity. It is also a story of happenstance, of long odds and impossibly good luck, and of uncommon generosity. In a world where too many young men are forced to make dangerous sea crossings in search of work, are recruited into extremist groups, and die at the hands of brutal security forces, Asad not only made it to the United States to join Maryan, but won a scholarship to study literature at Princeton—the first person born in Dadaab ever admitted to the prestigious university.
Beyond the Sand and Sea is an extraordinary and inspiring book for anyone searching for pinpricks of light in the darkness. Meticulously reported over three years, it reveals the strength of a family of Somali refugees who never lost faith in America—and exposes the broken refugee resettlement system that kept that family trapped for more than two decades and has turned millions into permanent exiles.
“A heartwarming story of hope and perseverance, this beautiful book is also something more profound: an appeal to our shared humanity in a time of deep divisions.”—Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Steve Jobs and Einstein
"Beyond the Sand and Sea is a remarkable act of storytelling: lucid reporting and writing and rigorous world-building. It is a stunningly intimate portrayal of lives spent in waiting, and the ways those lives can transform because of luck, perseverance, and compassion."—Alexis Okeowo, New Yorker staff writer and PEN Open Book Award-winning author of A Moonless Starless Night: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa
“A compelling account of the horrors of war and the interrupted lives of refugees. Delightfully and powerfully written, Beyond the Sand and Sea offers readers a unique window into the lives of the displaced, revealing the richness, complexity, and quiet heroism of human experiences too often rendered as statistics.”—His Excellency Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, former President of Somalia
“I started reading Ty McCormick's book one evening, and I didn't put it down until I'd reached the last page. Every abstract discussion about ‘resilience’ and ‘opportunity,’ as well as ‘American inclusion’ and ‘the plight of global refugees,’ will have a new vividness for those who have, in these pages, met Asad, Maryan, and the other main figures in this book.”—James Fallows, winner of the National Book Award and bestselling author of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America
“Written and reported with precision and deep humanity, this timely and important book paints a moving portrait of the complicated lives of the stateless and dispossessed . . . Ty McCormick reaffirms our faith in the power of a singular dream and the love of family to sustain a beautiful mind in one of the bleakest refugee camps in the world.”—Hassan Ghedi Santur, author of The Youth of God and Maps of Exile
“Captivating and uplifting, this story of hardship, survival, and redemption makes us understand why immigration is the best promise of the American Dream.”—Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at City University of New York’s Graduate Center
“A powerful and timely look at the human stories behind the headlines on war, migration and loss."—Nanjala Nyabola, author of Traveling While Black and Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Is Transforming Kenya
“I've never read a book which so poignantly conveys the gritty reality of life as a refugee, with its agonizing oscillation between hope and despair. Beautifully written, Beyond the Sand and Sea is like a sheet of glass, with McCormick granting the reader intimate access to Asad, Maryan, their siblings and parents' predicaments without feeling the need to impose himself upon the story. What results is an elegant, limpid, and utterly persuasive account.”—Michela Wrong, author of Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad and It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower
"Beyond the Sand and Sea is the deeply reported, beautifully written story of exiles abandoned by the outside world who insisted on their own humanity. Ty McCormick brings you so close to his subject that the struggle of Asad and his family to reach America becomes a universal tale of yearning, determination, injustice, and love."—George Packer, winner of the National Book Award and author of The Unwinding and Our Man
“Foreign correspondent McCormick, an editor at Foreign Affairs, makes his book debut with a riveting narrative of the plight of refugees . . . An intimate and rigorously reported portrait of desperate lives.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Poetically emphasize[s] the tragic stories of refugees refused much-needed shelter by capacious legislation . . . a simultaneously disheartening and uplifting journey.”—Library Journal
"Moving and meticulously researched . . . with vivid character profiles and history lessons."—Publishers Weekly
New York, July 2017
As he stood in line for immigration at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Asad Hussein tried to recall the final stanza of a poem by William Ernest Henley. In front of him, over the heads of...