Friday, 8 July 2011

Foreign Language Friday: In The Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

Dear Blog,

Original Title: Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli
Original Language: Italian
Translated by: Howard Curtis

Summary (from Goodreads): One night before putting him to bed, Enaiatollah's mother tells him three things: don't use drugs, don't use weapons, don't steal. The next day he wakes up to find she isn't there. They have fled their village in Ghazni to seek safety outside Afghanistan but his mother has decided to return home to her younger children. Ten-year-old Enaiatollah is left alone in Pakistan to fend for himself. In a book that takes a true story and shapes it into a beautiful piece of fiction, Italian novelist Fabio Geda describes Enaiatollah's remarkable five-year journey from Afghanistan to Italy where he finally managed to claim political asylum aged fifteen. His ordeal took him through Iran, Turkey and Greece, working on building sites in order to pay people-traffickers, and enduring the physical misery of dangerous border crossings squeezed into the false bottoms of lorries or trekking across inhospitable mountains. A series of almost implausible strokes of fortune enabled him to get to Turin, find help from an Italian family and meet Fabio Geda, with whom he became friends. The result of their friendship is this unique book in which Enaiatollah's engaging, moving voice is brilliantly captured by Geda's subtle and simple storytelling. In Geda's hands, Enaiatollah's journey becomes a universal story of stoicism in the face of fear, and the search for a place where life is liveable.

Review:  When I sat down to start reading this book, I wasn't sure how many boxes of tissues I was going to need.  Surprisingly, I didn't need any- the story was told in a very straightforward manner, without  much strong emotion at all.  But although it didn't make me cry, it was still an entirely hard-hitting and harrowing book.  There were some moments now and again that just struck me as particularly horrifying, perhaps because of the unadorned and almost casual way they were described, as if they were nothing exceptional to Enaiatollah.  It reminded me a little of The Book of Everything in that respect; having things just told as they are, without any exaggeration, strong emotions and such put in, makes the events seem entirely shocking.

Enaitollah talks about human trafficking, the extremely hard time police across the Middle East and southern Europe give him and the desperate measures he'll go to in order to go abroad in such a frank way I want to just grab him and trap him in a massive bear hug.  Still, I think that was only because of his experiences; sometimes I wished that there had been more of his own thoughts and emotions included.  Although it's a very direct book, like he's sat right across the table from you telling his story, it would have been nice to have felt what he felt, as well as see what he saw.

In The Sea There are Crocodiles reminds me a lot of the Breadwinner trilogy by Deborah Ellis, which were some of my favourite books a few years ago (I read the whole trilogy in about three days). It's very insightful into the world of illegal immigration, and if I hadn't read this book then I  wouldn't have been aware of how it works in any detail. As well as that, there were things like the places Enaiat worked; for fourteen hours a day in a stone-cutting factory, and running all the errands for a hotel, that reminded me how lucky I am to be able to just babysit once a week and still be able to eat three meals a day, sleep with a roof over my head and get a good education.

Still, it's not entirely without hope, which was a pleasant surprise.  Enaiatollah, once he reaches Italy, recounts how he managed  to (gradually) settle down and live an ordinary life.   Enaiat was so resilient and just kept on going whatever life threw at him.  He did such brave and resilient things aged ten or eleven that, as a teenager, makes me feel hopelessly ditzy and (hypothetically) incapable of surviving in such a harsh world.  His fearlessness and determination to keep going, through five years and six countries, will stay with me for a very long time.

In three words: Insightful, hopeful, direct.
Reccommended for: Armchair travellers.
Rating: 3.

Thank you to Random House for sending me a copy for review.

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