The first thing I thought of when I completed this book was how easy most kids have it in our part of the world. That’s not a bad thing, but perhaps it would be good for our pampered children to see how the real world is, and how an alternate reality is the case for most of the children worldwide.
The novel starts out explaining that it’s fictionalized, as the experiences told were based on true recollections that had to be verified. For the most part, though, it’s true as to what he remembers of his childhood. That makes sense, because it starts with a ten-year-old boy, and how clearly can their recollections be from their youthful perspective?
Akbari’s mother takes him across the border and out of his village and leave him there. She leaves him to a life of the unknown, hoping it is better than what is in store for him with the Taliban in power. We often hear the word and shrink of its visage, get angry with its connotation, or conjure of an image of a turbaned warrior with dusty skin and a Soviet automatic weapon. In reality- the Taliban play a very small role in this book- they are offered up as a reason for escape, but nothing more.
Akbari makes his way across the middle east and into Europe, eventually settling in Italy. Over the course of his journey he relates a sea crossing, getting deported multiple times, run ins with the police, and finding friends, kindness, and hope along the way. The story is stark- details are not really fleshed out with the insistence that they don’t matter- he is trying to tell a story, trying to capture the essence of his journey and has no time for the subtle nuances we come to expect in situations like this. Not deeply philosophical, this might be a turn-off for some.
Along the way there are false friends, painful losses, and some agonizing choices. It’s hard to imagine this is just a kid. What he has to go through is too much for an adult, much less a child.
In the narrative, there are pauses when the storyteller and the Italian author who writes it converse. These sort of bring you to present day. It’s an interesting presentation. They sort of help you digest what you just read. There’s very much a sense of “once upon a time” to this.
Some facts that astonished me was that the Taliban is made up of members that are of many ethnic groups, not just Afghanistans. I knew they were bad but their oppression is senseless. Also, I was amazed at his resilience. The way he kept going despite being abandoned.
A really good read, and I think it would be valuable for some spoiled kids to read and get a clue how well they have it. I know I’m making one of my kids read it, just for the reality check. There is violence but nothing outrageous.