100 pages 3 hours read

Atia Abawi

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2018

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide


A Land of Permanent Goodbyes is a young adult novel from author Atia Abawi. Published in 2018, it tells the story of a teenage refugee, Tareq, who flees his homeland of Syria, making the journey to Turkey, Greece, and eventually Germany. Tareq’s story is complemented by a second narrative, that of Alexia, a young American woman who defers a semester of college in order to support a volunteer organization that assists refugees as they arrive on the Greek islands.

The book’s omnipresent narrator is Destiny, as in fate, who makes connections between Tareq and the many other refugees of the world, past and present. The book argues that refugees can be created anytime and anywhere, due to uncontrollable circumstances, and calls for empathy.

Plot Summary

The book opens in Syria, 2015. A teenage boy, Tareq, is the oldest of his siblings. He has a younger brother Salim; two younger sisters, Farrah and Susan; and twin baby brothers, Ameer and Sameer, who are just five months old. They all live together with their parents, Fayed and Nour, and their paternal grandmother.

Syria is already in a violent conflict between Daesh militants and the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Tareq’s family home is bombed. Nour, Farah, the paternal grandmother, and twin baby brothers die. Fayed, Tareq, and Susan survive. Salim’s body can’t be found, so the family assumes he is dead.

Fayed takes Susan and Tareq to another city, Raqqa. Fayed’s brother, Waleed, lives there with his wife, Nada, and son, Musa—Tareq’s cousin, who is about his age. Waleed has agreed to provide the money for their escape from Syria.

Musa provides details regarding the Daesh’s brutal reign in Raqqa. Shortly after, Daesh force the boys to watch a public execution. Daesh militants follow the boys home. Fayed, Tareq, and Susan leave the next day along with Musa. They also bring two neighbor girls, Shams and Asil. Their parents are worried the pretty young women will become Daesh brides. Once in Turkey, they are out of money, so Musa and Tareq go to Istanbul to raise more funds to get to Europe. Fayed stays with Susan in Gaziantep. Shams and Asil reunite with a relative.

While Musa adapts quickly to life in Istanbul, picking up the language and even sparking a romance with a girl named Shayma, Tareq struggles with leaving his homeland. He is frustrated with the way Syrian refugees like himself are exploited for cheap labor. While Musa decides to make Istanbul home, Tareq is determined to get to Europe, where he believes Susan will be safer.

Tareq meets Fayed and Susan in Izmir. They get a spot on a boat headed to Greece, but they only have enough money for Tareq and Susan. Tareq and Susan make a harrowing boat trip across the Aegean Sea without their father. The boat starts taking on water, and a couple dies, leaving behind a baby.

In Greece, they meet Alexia, a college student from Connecticut who has deferred a semester to volunteer in Greece. She spends her days helping to drag in boats of refugees from the water, providing them with dry clothing and food, and instructing them on their next steps. 

Alexia forms a bond with the siblings and assists in rescuing Susan from human traffickers. When they part ways—Tareq and Susan go on to Athens so that they can continue to Germany—Alexia and Tareq agree to keep in touch.

In Germany, four-year-old Susan adapts quickly: She goes to kindergarten and learns the language. For Tareq, the transition is more difficult. He notices how people look at him with suspicion and treat him like a criminal. However—following Alexia’s advice to look for “the helpers” around him—he also identifies people who are kind and welcoming, who want to help him, and who treat him like a human.

At the book’s end, Salim calls Tareq, revealing he’s alive and has escaped the Daesh. He and Fayed are plan to join Tareq and Susan.