Children of War

Written by Paula Darwish
Review by Alan Pearson

The 1923 treaty of Lausanne was signed after the First World War to divide up the old Ottoman Empire. The treaty stipulated that population exchanges would take place between Greece and Turkey, which led to the mass deportation of 1.8 million people. The reality was that the Greeks saw this as an opportunity to ethnic cleanse the Turkish Muslim population and remove them from Crete.

This novel shows the fundamental humanity of ordinary people who have lived as neighbours for centuries, each accepting the other’s differences without prejudice, but finally realising that they are to be segregated.

Hassan is a young boy when he is forced from his father’s farm with his family. His older brother is killed by unknown assassins, and there are several beatings and rapes of other Muslim families. They are descendants of Ottoman Turks, but they have spoken only Greek all their lives. Hassan is taught Turkish by a Greek scholar friend and is the only one of his family who can read and write in both languages. They are herded into a coastal town where they are isolated. The Greeks shell them, and Hassan’s father is killed, but the family carry on with Hassan and his mother working tirelessly to feed and clothe them. The story is not brutal or bloody, but it shows that only radicals create conflict. Most people want a peaceful life with the prospect of modest wealth and family happiness. A touching story of the generosity and compassion of the human spirit.