Caroline Issa shares her review of  a 'Beautiful Country: A Memoir' by Qian Julie Wang and 'Not Without a Fight: Ten Steps to Becoming Your Own Champion' by Ramla Ali.

I recently took a long-haul flight – my first in 18 months – and I packed with me two books that I was very much looking forward to having an uninterrupted eight hours to delve into what I knew to be two very personal, and in some ways similar, stories.

Qian Julie Wang arrived in Brooklyn, New York as a young refugee from Shijiazhuang, China in the 1980s and learned early on from her parents that she was constantly at risk, given her undocumented status. With two professional parents reduced to working hard labour jobs (even Qian herself worked in a sweatshop for a few years in Chinatown, helping her mother sew shirts for a dime each), she brings us along as she navigates a new country, language and set of responsibilities no child should really have to take on. Her tale of growing up into a teenager with constant uncertainty and the ramifications of being part of a low-income household as her parents bounce from job to job is harrowing, and you are gripped by always wanting to know what happens next. You know, by way of her sleeve jacket portrait and bio that she's now a successful lawyer, but the all American tale of rags-to-riches/work-hard-to-succeed is not as easy as they make it to be. 

On the other hand, the story of Ramla Ali is one with a similar starting point to Qian's story. Her family were refugees from Somalia, bringing Ramla over to the UK when she was between two and three, (she still doesn't know her official age), but her hardships of bullying, assimilation and health were literally punched out through her passion for boxing. She is known for many firsts – the first Muslim woman to win a UK boxing title; the first Olympian to box for Somalia in the 2020 Olympics this past summer in Tokyo; and more – but ultimately, her story is one of single-mindedness and resilience and comes with a sort of self-help list of considerations to becoming your own champion.

Two powerful stories, told by young women both in their thirties with still more hindsight to come, but their tales are equally gripping, inspirational and a reminder for the gratitude so many of us take for granted. 

Pre-order Qian Julie Wang's Book Beautiful Country HERE and pre-order Ramla Ali's Ten Steps To Becoming Your Own Champion HERE

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