LEWISTON – A new book about Lewiston is once again putting the city in the national spotlight.

Cynthia Anderson’s “Home Now: How 6000 Refugees Transformed an American Town,” published in October, offers a portrait of hope as she describes a community of Muslim immigrants who arrived in a struggling, nearly all-white city in the middle of a nearly all-white state.

Cover courtesy of PublicAffairs

The book by Anderson, a writer from Rumford who has been covering the Somali influx for a decade, has been featured in recent weeks in everything from American Public Media’s “Marketplace” radio show to The Christian Science Monitor.

Despite some immigration-related problems, Anderson insists in “Home Now” that “before the arrival of its asylum-seekers and refugees, Lewiston was one more postindustrial city in slow fade. Now its newcomers are part of who it is – so too their life stories and their steady forward motion.”

The New Yorker, which in 2006 described the changes in Lewiston as a “large-scale social experiment,” said Anderson’s book “chronicles the transformation of a formerly white town by an influx of Somali refugees, drawing on the perspectives of old and new residents.”

“The result is a varied political picture: Immigration to Lewiston has revitalized the town, after decades of decline, but, in 2016, Maine gave Trump his only electoral-college vote in New England,” the magazine noted.

A review in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota – another area with many Somali immigrants – said Anderson’s book is rich in details, deft in its handling of complex issues and, in the end, mostly hopeful.

“Two decades ago, Lewiston was a beautiful old ghost of a city,” Anderson wrote in the book. “It needed to stake a claim in the twenty-first century. It has.”

Abdi Nor Iftin, author of “Call Me American,” said “Home Now” “is a thrilling narration of the lives of the new Mainers settled in one of America’s whitest towns — Lewiston, Maine.”

He said her book “humanizes the stories of the recent immigrants” who “helped reawaken a sleepy town.

“As a recent Somali immigrant myself, I saw in this book a true, intimate, and timely account of what I live every day,” Iftin said in a brief review. “This book should be read by everyone to learn about the stories, geography, tradition, strength, and resilience of their new neighbors.”

“Home Now” focuses in particular on a few immigrants, including a couple of high school students, a single mother, Abdikadir Negeye, a Somali Bantu refugee and co-founder of Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, and Fatuma Hussein, founder of United Somali Women, now with the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine.

But Anderson also talked with many longtime residents and others to try to capture the flavor of the Somali influx, including whites who worry that so many newcomers might change the character of a place they love.

“Home Now” concluded that “fear in Lewiston has flowed and ebbed based on the president’s latest pronouncement on refugees, or on public reaction to it, or on actions taken by local anti-Islamists. But the city’s Muslims aren’t easily deterred. These are people who trekked miles across the desert, often under attack, to reach refugee camps where conditions too were perilous.”

“Those who made it to the United States — even more, those who left primary resettlement sites to move to an isolated city in western Maine — did so with intention,” she wrote. “The same is true of the city’s more recent wave of African asylum-seekers who, though less overtly targeted than Muslim refugees, also have sometimes faced unwelcome.”

Anderson pointed out that “the first Somali-American kids born in Lewiston are teens now. They’re Mainers, kids who grew up with snow and the piercing blue of a winter sky. They wear wool hats over their hijabs and go to sleep at night with the nearby Androscoggin flowing beneath the ice.”

One of those young Somalis who attended Lewiston High School, Safiya Khalid, won an election to serve on Lewiston’s City Council a week after “Home Now” went on sale.

Her victory, as many proclaimed across the country, showed that Anderson’s hope was not misplaced.

A Farmington bookstore — Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers — is sponsoring a conversation and book-signing for Anderson and Iftin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, at the Emery Arts Center, 111 South St. in Farmington.

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