Once We Were Strangers

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

In Once We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker, the author asks the question - should our fear overpower our love? In this memoir of his relationship with a Syrian Refugee named Mohammad, he learns that if he had let them, his fears would have kept him away from a newfound friendship that changed not only his perception of refugees in general but how he approaches life.

The book begins with the author meeting Mohammad at a place called Church World Services. He does not explain what this organization is if it is a church or something more. It seems like something more because of the help they give to refugees. Shawn meets Mohammad and explains through an interpreter that nothing may come of his idea to write about Mohammad. Mohammad's response floors him when he says that no matter what happens they are friends now. This comment throws the author off a bit as he questions how good a friend he is and wondering if he even knows what the word friend really means. This innocent gesture of friendship from Mohammad begins a journey for the author of self-introspection that ultimately becomes the theme of this book.

The ordeal of escaping Syria that Mohammad and his wife and children went through, only to end up in an America with a racist, Islamophobic President had me wondering how Shawn would explain the hate to Mohammad. But Mohammad is a rare individual who, we come to see throughout the book, is just grateful that they are in a place that is better than where they were. In Syria, his house was bombed. In America, this is not something he needs to fear. His dedication to his new country is admirable, and you can't help but like him. His trials (new teeth), his wife Moradi's attempts to learn to drive and his desire to be a good friend to Shawn make you want to have Mohammad as your neighbour. The author, through Mohammad, sees for the first time how isolated we have allowed ourselves to become. Mohammad often remarks on how surprised he is that no one is outside. When he asks Shawn where they are and finds they are in their homes, he cannot fathom it because in his village everyone came together as a family and met regularly. This was my experience in the '60s. Neighbours talked to neighbours. They had coffee together, ate together and generally looked out for each other. This is not something that happens too much today.

While the book did not flow very well and at times left out important details (what is Tellus360 and Church World Service?) the heart of the book is clear - fear should not keep us from providing refuge to thousands like Mohammad and his family. As the author states: 

"We have to pull out all the stops in welcoming the refugee and the immigrant, in getting to know those who live around us, in showing love to our neighbours. We can't afford to isolate people anymore. We can't afford to push folks to the fringes of our society. This world we've created is a product of isolationism and fear, distrust and anger."

​I quite agree. If anything this book is a call to go out and meet your neighbour and more importantly treat the strangers in our midst as friends. I highly recommend it.
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I LOVED this book. Like couldn't put it down, stayed up too late reading it kind of love. 
Shawn does an amazing job of sharing the story of a Syrian family, but also alters perspectives - making it less about "the other" and more about us as humans and how friendship is a powerful thing.
I recommend this book to everyone!
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I was looking forward to the story of the author and Mohammed, some of which I first followed online. What I didn’t expect were the lessons I’d learn about friendship. The idea that we in America might have forgotten how to be a friend. This story was a modern-day Good Samaritan telling, from a great storyteller.
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ONCE WE WERE STRANGERS by SHAWN SMUCKER is the amazing true story of an unusual friendship - the friendship of Shawn, the American author, and Mohammad, the Syrian refugee. This friendship spread to their wives and families, showing us a Christian family and a Muslim family that interact peacefully in a world where fear and isolationism seem to have taken over.
It is a story that teaches a person a lot about life and what is really important. It is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and shows us what "love your neighbour" really means. I can highly recommend it as a most inspirational read.
I was given a free copy of the book by NetGalley from Revell. The opinions in this review are completely my own.
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Disjointed and hard to read.  I didn’t enjoy this book and struggled to read it to the end.  Explores different relationships and lives.
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What a poignant story! Smucker's wisdom about our inherent prejudices and weaknesses as Christians and add humans; reminds us why love and 'helping thy neighbour' is so important.


Smucker drew me into this wonderful text and refused to allow me to put it down until I had read every last phrase. Whilst it is a short read (something I tend to steer clear from unless it's certain to be good), he articulates so wonderfully the beautiful relationship between an American man and a Syrian refugee, and the power that this connection can have. Tactfully written, thought-provoking and insightfully honest, this is a must-read for anyone with a vested interest int eh devastating refugee crisis and the humanitarian aid that is dreadfully required.
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A warm and inspiring story of a sweet friendship. .   We can all learn something from this friendship. It’s definitely worth the read.
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This book was about Shawn and his friendship with Mohammad, a Syrian refuge. Shawn’s initial intentions were to write a book about Mohammad’s experiences of getting out of Syria and how he gets to the United States. But in the process, Shawn becomes very close to Mohammad, so this book develops into one about their friendship.

I really enjoyed reading about Shawn’s and Mohammad’s friendship. The book brought out the differences between the United States and Syria in how people prioritize relationships with one another. Mohammad talks about how in Syria, he went to a friend’s house almost everyday for coffee for 2-3 hours and asked the question as to why that is not done in the States. And as Shawn thinks about this, he writes about how in the States, we are independent and think we don’t need anybody, and that we are too busy for relationships and community.

I thought these points really hit the nail on the head about what relationships with one another look like these days. We do seem to be in a rush with life and we don’t slow down enough with friendships with one another. I see this lack of connection missing in some many lives these days. This book emphasizes these points. And the friendship between Mohammad and Shawn that happens as a result of “slowing down” is just awesome. It goes beyond just “helping” Mohammad get around but Mohammad is helping Shawn just as much with their friendship. I see this value of relationships with friends from other countries and I saw this value with Mohammad and his family.

I also liked one other quote in this book: (Shawn) “I find the world an increasingly intolerable place, full of hatred and evil and violence. But then there is Mohammad, reminding me to see the good in the world, reminding me to count our blessings.” Amen and exactly! There is a lot of hate and self-centeredness these days…but there is still so much good in this world.

I would highly recommend this book. Great book!

Rating: 5 out of 5

I received this book from Revell in exchange for a review.
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Sometimes putting a human experience to an issue clarifies it. Such is the case here. We read of Mohammad, his wife and their sons. They escaped from Syria in 2012. He knew staying in the country would mean their death. They rode a bus part way with other refugees, ultimately walking through the wilderness into Jordan and into a barbed wire enclosed tented refugee camp. All Mohammad wanted was a good life for his family, free from the threat of death. But so did a million other refugees. Four years later Mohammad was in the United States and met Shawn Smucker.

I like how Smucker tells the story, starting with his initially meeting Mohammad. As a friendship develops, he reveals Mohammad's story of being a refugee and coming to America. He writes of the challenges refugees face.  Besides learning a new language is finding work, finding a doctor, adjusting to all the new customs, on and on. Through it all Mohammad is full of hope, positive, friendly and so hospitable.

This is a good book for people who are afraid of Muslims and don't understand their need to find a safe place in America. This is a good account of a Syrian family trying to make their way in Jordan and then in the US. It is a good example of friendship and of how Christians can show love to others. There are discussion questions included so this would make a good choice for a reading group.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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Does friendship matter? Can it change the world? What does it mean to be a friend?

This book about a Lancaster, Pa. native and a Syrian refugee who resettled to the area addresses these questions in an honest story of making time and room for people in our busy lives.

Once We Were Strangers isn't overtly dramatic or adventurous and friendship between these two men might not seem like anything significant. But that's exactly why it's the perfect book for the times we live in. Smucker doesn't set out to "save" his friend Mohammed from his circumstances, and the world doesn't noticeably shift because of their relationship. But these two men are changed, and how their relationship developed is accessible to all of us. We can all befriend someone with whom we have nothing in common simply by showing up and listening. (And repeating that process often.)

If you can't imagine ever becoming friends with a Syrian refugee, I encourage you to read this book. If you don't understand why people flee their home countries, I encourage you to read this book. The chapters about Mohammed's family's exit from Syria are some of the hardest to read. If you fully support the resettlement of refugees in the United States, I encourage you to read this book.

Disclosure: I read an advance copy of the book courtesy of Baker Publishing Group. Review reflects my honest opinion.
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