Waterstones has pledged to raise more money for Oxfam after an “escalation” in the humanitarian refugee crisis in Europe stemming from war-torn Syria.
Last year the retailer raised £1m through its "Buy Books For Syria" campaign after publishers donated titles from big-name authors with 100% of the retail price going to Oxfam. It followed a social media campaign lead by Patrick Ness in which authors and publishers helped to raise over £600,000 for Save the Children's refugee appeal by pledging to match donations from members of the public.
Waterstones is continuing to fundraise for the cause, this time donating £5 for every copy sold of its November Non-Fiction Book of the Month - The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby, published by Allen Lane.
In the book, the BBC journalist tells the story of the rescue of migrants from the shipwreck of their boat in the Mediterranean. The optician of Lampedusa lives a quiet life with his wife on a remote Mediterranean island until one sunny October morning, a relaxing boat trip with friends unexpectedly turns into a heart-breaking rescue mission and the testimony of an accidental hero who saved migrants from drowning, is turned into “into a timeless story about the awakening of human courage and conscience”.
According to the United Nations, increasing numbers of refugees and migrants are taking their chances on unseaworthy boats and dinghies crossing the Mediterranean sea attempting to reach Europe, with the vast majority in need of international protection fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin. The largest group of people are from war-ravaged Syria. In Italy, Oxfam is providing people with accommodation and essentials like clothes and food - as well as health and legal support.
James Daunt, m.d of Waterstones (pictured), told The Bookseller he thought it was important to keep the humanitarian crisis in the public’s mind.
“The book brings the humanitarian issue forward in a very important way and I think that books can play a really important part in reaching people and bringing the situation to their attention,” he said. “As booksellers, this is what we should be doing, we are about engaging people in debate. It is part of what we as a business should be trying to do and we are doing it in a way that plays to our strengths. If we really get behind this book, we will sell lots of them, and hopefully raise a significant amount of money.”
He added: “I think all businesses should be doing it, for a cause that suits them and in a way that is appropriate for themselves. We are all part of the society in which we exist and we should all aim to make the world better.”
Author Kirby (pictured below) said that when the optician of Lampedusa first told her his story, she was “haunted by it and for several nights afterwards I dreamt that it was me in his boat, scrabbling and snatching at the dark and oily shadows, slipping on the wheel house roof as I scoured the waves”.
“I hope readers will enjoy casting off with this ordinary man as he sets out to sea with friends on a glorious late summer cruise, but when the seagulls start mewling, I hope readers will choose to stay on board with the optician and will help him steer his boat towards a brutal reality that none of us want to see,” she said.
Mark Goldring, c.e.o of Oxfam GB, said that three years on from the terrible events recounted in The Optician of Lampedusa, the refugee crisis is ongoing as millions are forced to flee conflict, disaster and extreme poverty.
“In Italy, Oxfam is providing people with accommodation and essentials like clothes and food - as well as health and legal support,” he said. “The money generously donated by Waterstones to Oxfam from sales of this book will enable us to help many more refugees."
Daunt added that publisher Allen Lane had been supportive in printing large quantities of the book and keeping it at an attractive £9.99 price point.
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