A life in exile: the book

by alessandra_mcallister in Istanbul

We did it
On 17th July 2015 we successfully raised £1,415 with 35 supporters in 42 days

An autobiographical account of a life in exile, written as author and subject make sense of the world they have come to inhabit in Istanbul

by alessandra_mcallister in Istanbul

New stretch target

Thank you so much for all the support in helping us reach our minimum target for resident permits and a more time to research.

Any funds gained from the stretch target will go towards research trips to Kurdistan and south Turkey for the chapters relating to Syria and Kurdistan. They will also contribute towards an editor.

Click here to read PDF sample of the chapter Three months in Kurdistan.

How it began…

Last year Gaith and my paths collided in a busy expat bar in Tbilisi, Georgia. Gaith was there under refugee status with his mother and siblings. I was there with a keen interest in the region’s history. It was a shared disinterest in the football match blaring on the bar’s T.V. screen that led us into conversation.

That very day, two friends had already suggested to Gaith that he write his story down.  The problem for him was that his English was limited, as was his Arabic. An Iraqi in exile for most of his life, a formal education had never been an option, so writing about the complex events of his life in either language seemed to Gaith an insurmountable challenge.

Meanwhile, I having recently graduated from a BA in Spanish and History was in Georgia with aspirations to write. I had previously written interview pieces and articles for featureshoot.com, platform505.com and opendemocracy.org as well as created and managed a photography course and exhibition for street children in Mexico City. Whilst in Georgia I began writing a travelogue, but was not pushing myself any further, until I met Gaith that day at the expat bar.

“I want to tell my story to an English speaking audience,” said Gaith.

“I want to write,” said I.

 And so it was, we began a blog. A raw account of Gaith’s life told in first person, each entry was dedicated to a country that he’d fled or returned to. Though the format couldn’t do justice to the complexity of events being discussed, nor to the emotions involved in living through them, time and circumstance dictated that we kept the narrative as simple as possible. Then the time came for us to go our separate ways and the blog was abandoned.

Never did we imagine that one year later we would both be in Istanbul on a joint mission to give the story justice, to make it into a book, to give it the attention to detail and, hopefully, exposure that it deserved.

Mission statement

The book will be an autobiographical account of a young life that has taken place against the volatile backdrop of war and displacement in the Middle East. It will explore narratives of identity, belonging and survival to paint the portrait of an individual who has marched to the beat of his own drum despite the fact that ahead and behind him roar the deafening cries to conform in a world of intolerance.

It will also be an exploration of an ongoing relationship between author and subject. As our conversations progress here in Istanbul, they will open windows that reveal the impact of the city’s environment on our understanding of one another, Gaith’s memories of his past and my perception, as an outsider, of those memories.

This book is the coming together of two people’s experiences on the ideological narrative that has haunted the 21st century, where each has lived out its myths and realities in parts of the world in opposition. The results, we hope, will be testament to the flow and exchange of ideas between people, more powerful than the borders that divide us and immune to the prejudices imposed on us by the central narrative, if only we open ourselves up to the person on the other side.

Book structure

The book will be chaptered in chronological order and in two sections. The first section will comprise of those countries that Gaith experienced before we met and which are predominantly his personal accounts and descriptions, supported with background research and interjected with accounts of current events in Istanbul:

Early years in Iraq and Jordan 1995-2000

Syria and back again via Iraq and Iran 2000-2006

Damascus 2006-2012

Return to Iraq 2012

Kurdistan 2012

Turkey 2012-2013        

Georgia 2013-2014

The second section will be about out time in Turkey together. This will be an ongoing development as we carry out the project in Istanbul over the next few months.

What we’re asking for and why…

We would like to dedicate the time and energy to this project that it deserves. Whilst we have begun on this journey, our time together and our ability to work on it is limited by our need to cover basic expenses.

Gaith currently works 12 hour shifts Monday-Saturday, which leaves us precious little time on Sunday to record, reflect and progress.    

There is also the pending need to buy resident permits in order for us to remain in Turkey beyond three months. Those extra months granted by the permit will be vital in allowing us that time we need to work on the book together doing ground research, discussing and writing.

We are asking to raise 1400GDP to cover resident permits and basic living costs so that we can fully dedicate ourselves to this project over the next five months. Here is the breakdown:

Turkish resident permit x 2: £600

Combined rent and bills for 2 months (combined with savings and income this will be spread over four): £800


This project offers rewards in return for your donation.

£5 or more

£5 Reward

Every little helps! We will send you our electronic epistolary gratitude and give you a shout out on Twitter.

£10 or more

£10 Reward

A contribution of £10 will get you the above and a pdf sneak preview of the first two chapters completed.

£25 or more

£25 Reward

Donating £20 will earn you the above as well as a hard copy photograph by Alessandra sent from Istanbul.

£60 or more

£60 Reward

A contribution of £60 or more will earn you the the above plus and extra pdf chapter and a hard copy of a short story by Alessandra. You will also get a thank you in the acknowledgements.

£100 or more

£100 Reward

A donation of £100 or more will get you a hard copy of a short story with images (by Alessandra) AND a full PDF version of the book when it's completed. You will also get a thank you in the acknowledgements.

£200 or more

£200 Reward

Not only you will you receive a hard copy of a short story with images, you will also be on the list for a hard copy of the book when it's published/self-published. You will also get a thank you in the acknowledgements.

Got an idea like this?

Our crowd has raised over £70 million for bright ideas and good causes.