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A Rising Voice - Review of Hani Abdile's, I Will Rise.

Photo by Di Cousens at Open Studio, Melbourne.

I will rise is Hani Abdile’s debut poetry and prose collection, published by Writing Through Fences. It chronicles Hani's harrowing journey from the horrors of war in Somalia to 18 months of detention to her eventual freedom in Australia.

In I will rise, we are witnesses to Hani’s moments of suffering and also her growth as a writer. The title gives a nod to Maya Angelou’s strong influence on Hani while in detention. The altered wording acknowledges that Hani's journey as a writer – and a woman living free from fear – is just beginning. Having English as a third language, many poems in I will rise showcase Hani’s promising emerging voice and offer a human face to the highly politicised asylum seeker policy debate in Australia.

Identity is a theme heavily explored in the book, inextricably linked to the passing and pausing of time in Hani’s tumultuous young life. Hani’s yesterday longs for Africa; glows with memories of a mother’s affection and a grandmother’s love; grows fearful of the warring landscapes of tribal Somalia and pained by the uncertainty of Australian detention. In Mama Africa, Hani grapples with the loss of home before reconciling her torn identity with the empowered line (repeated elsewhere in the book): ‘I will remain your child Mama Africa but a woman of Australia’.

While Beautiful Day marks Hani’s first taste of freedom, it is in Memory of Castlemaine that we find ourselves in Hani's today, surrendering the painful memories of the past in ‘the arms of peace’ as the wind blows around her. Through the defiant passion and resilience of I will Rise, I write and Dear Self, we catch glimpses of the human rights advocate busily forging Hani's tomorrow. Although the book naturally focuses on Hani’s experiences, many poems tackle broader and pertinent asylum seeker stories. The foundations of discrimination and the dehumanising effects of detention are most uncomfortably laid out in Label, The Fence and Identity, as is the undeniable Western role in the destruction of home in Listen. In Here I am, Hani boldly states ‘I am not a victim. I am a hero’. Indeed, reading I will rise reminds you of the remarkable resilience and courage it takes to be an asylum seeker, and forces you to re-examine societal views of the word ‘hero’ in today’s increasingly adversarial world.

Stories like Hani’s are a compelling read for Australians who want an honest account of those caught ‘behind the fence’; asylum seekers whose voices were lost at sea and continue to be silenced on land. I will rise is a cry for humanity, for hope and above all, for home. You can purchase the paperback of Hani's poetry book here.

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