On May 2, 2021, Dundurn Press heard the worst thing that a publisher can hear: one of our authors had died, suddenly, after a brief illness. The author was Aaron Berhane, an Eritrean journalist who had found a home and a teaching position in Canada with his family. His memoir, Burden of Exile: A Banned Journalist’s Flight from Dictatorship, had been acquired by editor Russell Smith, and Russell had been working with him on it for several months. The book tells the story of Aaron’s founding of the first independent newspaper in the violent dictatorship of Eritrea, his subsequent flight from that country being pursued by Eritrean government agents, and his arrival as a refugee in Canada. He was almost finished it. “He was an amazing man,” says Smith. “His story is one of great bravery – the police shot at him as he escaped, crossing a desert at night, in sandals. When he arrived in Canada, he had to do menial jobs – warehouse loader, overnight gas-station worker, security guard. And despite what he had endured, his memoir was so full of gratitude and wonder at Canada.”
Almost immediately after arriving in Canada, Aaron was awarded the 2003/04 Donner Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Fellowship at Massey College. He went on to found Meftih, a newspaper for the Eritrean community in Canada. While running his newspaper, he completed a Master’s degree at Ryerson, received the 2019 Humber College’s PEN Writer-in-Residence fellowship and was appointed Chair of the Writers-in-Exile Committee at PEN Canada.
Aaron leaves his wife and three children, whom he had managed to get to Canada years after his exile. He was almost finished his book. Dundurn believes that his story should not die with him, and we will do our utmost to work with Aaron’s family to assemble the rest of the book and publish it in Aaron’s honour.