THE FIRST WINTER

Book Cover

Young émigrés reflect candidly on family, faith, education, and
their difficult journeys to becoming Americans.

United ReSisters, a group of young Somali American women living
in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has become an active and important part of the social
and cultural life of the predominantly white community. In a moving collection
of reflections, poems, conversations, and letters, 12 forthright members of the
group share their experiences escaping from Somalia’s civil war, living in
refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, struggling as newcomers to the United
States (including first encountering cold and snow), and working to achieve
their dreams for the future. Prominent among the group are the Kasim
sisters—Nada, Nadifo, Nimo, Nasteho, and Najma—who arrived in the U.S. in 2014
after seven years in a refugee camp where, Najma recalled, “the food wasn’t
enough for one meal a day,” and water was scarce. Still, they felt a sense of
community that sustained them as they waited to emigrate. All the contributors
speak to their desire for acceptance while still honoring their customs and
religion; all wish Americans could be more open about understanding them rather
than imposing assumptions about Africans or Muslims. Sometimes, they felt like
“leftovers.” “I wanted so badly to be accepted into this new society,”
confesses Hafsa Husseyn, although acceptance was sometimes a challenge. Her
sister Maryam echoes other contributors by showing uncommon patience in
confronting prejudice: “I am human, and you are, too,” she writes in an open
letter titled “Hello Stranger.” Some Americans could not understand—or
accept—their custom of wearing the head covering called hijab: “Some think I’m
forced to wear hijab,” Nada Kasim writes, or believe that it reflects religious
fundamentalism, neither of which is true. Other Americans do not understand
fasting for Ramadan. “Fasting,” explains Nasteho Kasim, “is a way to learn
patience, break bad habits, and even ease anger.” Afterwords by ReSisters’ co-facilitators
underscore the young women’s commitment and courage.

Revelatory and inspiring young voices.

kirkusreviews.com

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