Summary: Chapter 9

The city of London begins constructing the London Halo, a new city ringed around London, to house the new migrants. Saeed and Nadia settle in a work camp, where in exchange for working on the project, they will receive a home on forty meters of land and utilities. However, they must pay a tax on their salary to longtime London residents. They live in a pavilion camp with tarps for walls. Saeed and Nadia are fairly high on the housing list and hope to move into a home by autumn.

One night, Nadia starts dreaming about the girl from Mykonos. Saeed dreams of his father. He hears from a cousin that his father died of pneumonia. Saeed doesn’t know how to grieve and takes extra work shifts. Nadia tries to talk with Saeed about his father but finds she cannot. Although Nadia doesn’t pray, she asks if she can sit with Saeed and his group of friends while they pray for his father. He tells her she doesn’t have to. She sits with them anyhow but feels unwelcome.

In Amsterdam, an elderly man sitting on his apartment balcony sees a wrinkled Brazilian man emerge from the tool shed. The wrinkled man doffs his hat and goes back into the shed. Another time the wrinkled man appears, the elderly man invites the wrinkled man to the balcony. The wrinkled man then invites the elderly Dutchman to come back with him and shows the elderly man his paintings. The elderly man offers to buy one, but the wrinkled man gives it to him as a gift. They become a couple. 

Some British citizens work at the camp, primarily in supervisory roles. Saeed gets along with his British foreman, who, unlike many of the native Brits, eats with his underlings. Saeed thanks him for all he’s doing for the migrants, but the foreman doesn’t respond.

Saeed wakes before dawn to find Nadia also awake. He suggests they take a walk outside. They walk with their arms pressed together. Although both of them know they should talk, neither speaks. They look at the birds whose trees have been cut down to house the migrants. Saeed makes bird calls at them, but none react.

Nadia works on a crew that lays pipes as a man driving a giant digger makes trenches for them. The man who drives the digger is native, and his wife comes over from her supervisor’s role to have lunch with him every day. They welcome the company of the migrants of Nadia’s crew. 

On their days off, Saeed and Nadia help new migrants settle into the camps. They often spend evenings on their cell phones, neither talking nor touching. Some of the silence comes from their exhaustion. However, the new place they are in has changed how they see each other. Nadia still finds Saeed attractive but isn’t caught up by him emotionally. He talks about waiting lists, not traveling or the stars or even his family. Saeed still thinks Nadia is beautiful but doesn’t understand why she continues to wear her robe when she avoids their people and doesn’t pray. He hates that he’s becoming less romantic. However, he considers Nadia family, and family means a lot to him. He tries to smile at her a lot, which makes her sad. 

One day Nadia suggests that they move again to Marin in the San Francisco Bay area. With the hope that this move will rekindle their relationship, Saeed agrees. 

Analysis: Chapter 9

The British government’s resettlement plan highlights that there is no perfect or fair solution for human displacement. Although the conditions of the London camp certainly appear more humane than those of the Mykonos refugee camp, the migrants still have to sleep in what are essentially tents and perform hard labor. The fact that Saeed works extra shifts but doesn’t receive priority in housing allotment likely makes sense logistically but feels unfair given the difficulty of construction work. The tax the migrants must pay also poses a murky ethical dilemma. At the end of the previous chapter, Nadia pointed out that in taking over the London house, they were living in someone else’s home, effectively displacing those people. The tax plan, in theory, works to counteract this perceived unfairness. However, British citizens generally have much more than the migrants who gave up everything to be there. Even this supposedly equalizing measure cannot make things equitable and penalizes the migrants for circumstances beyond their control. The birds Nadia and Saeed encounter on their walk highlight this dilemma. To house the refugees, the government has cut down more trees, displacing these birds and forcing them to adapt to urban life. No matter the solution to resettlement, someone loses something.

The division of labor at the worksites reveals how governments treat different kinds of immigrants. The supervisory positions go only to people considered British “natives” even though there’s no reason why a migrant worker might not have prior construction management experience. That the migrants cannot hold a supervisory role suggests that the government still considers them less trustworthy, reliable, and worthy of a higher paid position than a British citizen even though they now have a clear path to residency. The case of the digging machine driver’s wife demonstrates that not all immigrants face the same challenges. Not only did the woman supposedly come to the United Kingdom legally, but the narrator strongly implies that she is white and comes from an English-speaking country. This makes her indistinguishable from an archetypical British native save only for her accent. While we do not have all the details about the politics of the camp, the narrator singling her out as an immigrant with a supervisory role implies that she has had an easier time building a life and finding a job in London than immigrants from non-English-speaking countries. In addition, as a legal immigrant, she has attained the same status as a native British person. 

This time in London marks a major turning point in Nadia and Saeed’s relationship because it’s the first time since leaving their country that they’ve been able to assess their feelings for each other without the constant stress of danger. The fact that even without external stress, they still have not rekindled their closeness reveals a likelihood that they will not be compatible long term. The London Halo also changes the lenses through which they assess each other because, unlike in their home country, their native culture and religion are no longer the default. Therefore, their behaviors read differently to each other. For example, Saeed once felt privileged and special that he saw the true purpose of the robe Nadia wears as a kind of armor to keep people at a distance. In a country where it is common for people to wear robes, that she wears hers insincerely didn’t feel important and actually made her interesting. In London, Nadia’s robe makes him angry because he misses home, and the robe feels like a mockery of his culture. Likewise, Nadia once appreciated the way Saeed prayed with or without her. Now, when Saeed must actively seek out others to pray with, she feels unwelcomed in this newly cultivated religious space.