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Book Talk: Helen Benedict — The Good Deed

Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Avenue Northwest
Washington, D.C. 20008

Set in 2018 against the ironic backdrop of an overcrowded, fetid refugee camp on the beautiful, Homeric island of Samos in Greece, The Good Deed follows the stories of five women: Amina, who is nineteen and has just been released from one of Bashar al-Assad’s secret and torture-ridden prisons in Syria; Leila, a Syrian widow with two little sons, who has lost her daughter and granddaughter to smugglers on a Turkish beach; Nafisa, who survived civil war and gang rape in Sudan only to see her entire family murdered, save for one daughter; Farah, Leila’s lost daughter; and finally, an American named Hilma, who came from New York to Samos to escape her own dark secret, only to become entangled in conflict with the very people she wishes to help.

Drawing from four years of interviews with refugees on Samos, along with twelve previous years of work on the Iraq War, Benedict has written The Good Deed as a series of lyrical, intensely felt alternating voices, following these women’s everyday lives in the camp, as well each of their backstories–stories of families, love, secrets, violence, war, and flight. When Hilma, the American, unwittingly does a “good deed,” she triggers a crisis that brings her and the refugee women into a conflict that escalates dramatically as each character struggles for what she needs.

In essence, The Good Deed is about the struggle never to lose hope, even in the face of war and the world’s hostility to refugees; the complexities that arise out of trying to help others; the healing power of friendship; and the everlasting bonds between mothers and children.

Helen Benedict, a professor at Columbia University, is the author of seven novels, including Wolf Season (Bellevue Literary Press), Sand Queen, and The Edge of Eden (both from SoHo Press). She has been called “one of our most thoughtful and provocative writers of war literature,” by David Abrams, author of Fobbit. Her novels have received citations for best book of the year from the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago and New York public libraries. Wolf Season received a starred review in Library Journal, which called it “a book that deserves the widest attention.” Sand Queen was named a “Best Contemporary War Novel” by Publishers Weekly. In her fiction and numerous works of non-fiction, she has been writing about refugees and war for years, including the non-fiction, Map of Hope and Sorrow Stories of Refugees Trapped in Greece, published in 2022 by Footnote Press. A recipient of the 2021 PEN Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History, the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism, the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, and the Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the Women’s Political Caucus, Benedict is also the author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq. Her writings inspired a class action suit against the Pentagon on behalf of those sexually assaulted in the military and the 2012 Oscar- nominated documentary, The Invisible War.

Benedict will be in conversation with Mojgan Ghazirad. Mojgan Ghazirad, a native of Iran, graduated from Tehran University of Medical Sciences with a medical degree. She studied pediatrics at Inova Children’s Hospital and received her neonatal medicine specialty from George Washington University. She currently works as an assistant professor of pediatrics at George Washington University NICU in Washington, DC. She has published three collections of short stories in Farsi in Iran and Europe: A Lover in White Jacket in 2012 in Iran, Turquoise Dream in 2014 in Germany, and her last collection In the Solitude of Suitcases in 2016 in the UK. Her English essays have appeared in The Best American Travel Writing 2020, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Idaho Review, Longreads, The Common, etc. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University.

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