The writing in Human Cargo is nothing short of stark, ugly honesty as Caroline Moorehead relates the horrors that immigrants around the world face. The black and white photo on the cover depicts an African refugee, standing in falling snow. It is a poignant introduction. He looks out of place, hopeless. He has no home.
The book opens with bleak and horrendous personal stories of unthinkable violence, much of it to small children and women. In only the prologue, Moorehead tells of a reality that one can only read with nausea, disgust and profound sadness. Each of the eleven “Lost Boys of Cairo” is very real to us. Through their quirks and horror stories, through their fear and helplessness, we get to know these boys as individuals. Their extreme youth makes their stories all the worse to try to make sense of.
She deals with the stories of very young men, and a few women, fleeing from horrors that are all too common in their worlds. Some of these young men have disappeared with no further word. Some have endings that will continue to haunt me. The hopelessness and violence seen in these short, sad lives leaves a feeling of hollow anger- hollow only because it is allowed to continue, day after day, year after year.
Moorehead lays out the in-depth and often very sad history of refugees, beginning in the 1800s. It is a worldwide issue, ignored by most, and fought against - not for - by governments. The symbolic doors to many countries have simply slammed closed to people seeking asylum or new lives. Eyes have been closed as well. Even in death, the immigrants are not treated with basic human dignity.
There are more than enough true human stories to illustrate the author's point. It is an emotionally draining read, with sickeningly detailed accounts of the tortures and brutalities suffered. The stories are vivid in their colorful simplicity. Even the simple titles given to each chapter make the heart ache: “The Homeless and the Restless” and “Little Better Than Cockroaches.” It makes one wonder what happened to the concept of human rights. One of the things emphasized in this book is that the horror endured by refugees is a thing of the present, not only the past. This happens today.
Caroline Moorehead has a gift for drawing the reader in to feel the fear, anger and desperation that tears families not only from their native countries but apart from each other as well. As difficult as Human Cargo is to read, it is incredibly well-written and organized. Although the author’s intent might have been to shock people into action through the extreme graphic violence reported, it might have the opposite effect, triggering the “hide your head in the sand” mentality instead. The stories of these people needed to be told, however. Through her stories, they are finally given the respect, decency and humanity that every person deserves.