This is the ultimate journey book. I think I was crying by page two, which might be a record even for me. And what makes this book by Fabio Geda stand out among journey books is that it’s true. OK, it’s described as fiction. But it is also described as the true story of a young Afghan’s journey to Europe.
So, I don’t know what constitutes the fiction in this lovely book, unless it’s simply the smaller details, smoothing what is a very rough trek. I aim to find out, though, as Fabio and his ‘main character’ Enaiatollah Akbari are going to be at the Edinburgh Book festival in August.
Back in 1999 Enaiatollah’s mother took her ten-year-old son from their Afghan village to Pakistan and left him. If you look at it from the point of view of a small child, it’s a cruel thing to do. But looked at from a mother’s perspective, it’s deeply upsetting, but you can also almost see the necessity of her actions.
Before leaving she made Enaiatollah promise never to use drugs or carry a weapon or to steal. This lovely and polite boy had to work out for himself what to do, and by hard work and with much courage he spent five years doing badly paid jobs, slowly inching closer to Europe.
You hear so much about refugees and human trafficking, but you tend to think of it as one short, if horrendous, journey, which will be over in the foreseeable future. Enaiatollah worked and worked, and made it to Iran. Then there is the repatriation problem, where you are found and sent back. More than once. He ‘just’ worked some more and covered the same ground yet again.
Five years later he arrived in Italy, where he has remained. It’s also where he met Fabio Geda and told him the whole story of those years.
The book is very simple. It’s Enaiatollah telling Fabio everything as he saw it at the time. He has an astounding memory for detail. Occasionally Fabio asks him questions and the reader is able to see how they talk about what’s important and what isn’t.
The question is whether things ended happily for Enaiatollah. From a western point of view it did. But just because things aren’t bad for the now (perhaps) 22-year-old, it doesn’t mean they are good. And there is his mother to consider.