Reviewed by Alice E Olsson in SBR 2017:2
Review Section: Non-Fiction
In 2016, Annah Björk and Mattias Beijmo travelled to Turkey to find out more about the coast from which refugees launch on the perilous crossing to Europe. They had already volunteered on the Greek island of Lesbos, greeting survivors with blankets and food. Now they wanted to understand the journey from the other side of the Aegean Sea. In the style of literary reportage, Båt 370 – Döden på Medelhavet (Boat 370: Death on the Mediterranean) describes their encounters with refugees, smugglers, and corrupt coastguards – and how they discovered a story about murder, drowned children, and allegedly serious breaches of human rights.
Soon after arriving, Annah and Mattias are sucked into an investigation of what happened on the fateful night in January 2016 when a boat carrying fiftythree men, women, and children capsized halfway between Turkey and Greece. Having been handed a set of pictures of those whose dead bodies were pulled from the water, they are left with the task of contacting their families. But as they are drawn deeper into the search for truth, a much more sinister picture emerges. The book morphs masterfully into a story of true crime, with all the thrill and tension of a classic spy novel.
Alongside Annah’s narration of their journey and discoveries runs another strand of the story. It is a reconstruction of the events of that night, told from the perspective of the refugees on the boat. Every few chapters, to Annah and ration of runs a glimpse: making their way down to the water, finding themselves at the mercy of an unforgiving sea, and being prevented from turning back to the safety of land by the ruthless smugglers.
Båt 370 is unlike most other books about migration and the refugee crisis. It offers little in the way of statistics about sweeping patterns of people on the move or philosophising on the inalienable dignity of all human beings. Instead, it illuminates, with heartbreaking clarity, reality as lived by the individuals who fall through the gaps in international treaties and EU conventions. It weaves together international politics with the drama of real human lives – those of the defenceless refugees as well as the harrowed authors.
Björk and Beijmo have managed to find a new way into a highly topical and difficult subject. Their approach promises a story and narrator that more readers can relate to – the extraordinary experiences of two rather ordinary people who feel they simply cannot watch this crisis unfold from the sideline any longer.
Annah Björk is a journalist reporting on contemporary culture for several of Sweden’s leading papers and magazines, as well as Swedish Television. Mattias Beijmo works as an analyst and strategist for several European non-profit organisations and is one of Sweden’s most sought-after lecturers in the field. Together, they have compiled testimonies and real technical evidence about what happened to Boat 370. As lawyers and courts in the UK, Turkey, Russia, and Libya are now involved in the case, their book will be of particular interest to British and international readers.
Sadly, the events of the last few years have made it painfully evident that facts and numbers do little to rally our shared sense of humanity in this contemporary culture of fake news and information overload. With its vividly human storytelling, Båt 370 could be the beginning of a remedy.