Abbas and his mother are about to board a plane for Turkey when authorities order her to remain in post-Revolution Iran with his father, Karim; Abbas, at Karim’s insistence, flies alone to Istanbul to stay and apply for a British visa—he is 9.
Abbas doesn’t speak Turkish; a promised helper fails him; the fleabag hotel he’s deposited in is in a dangerous neighborhood. His intelligence, resilience and cocky charm help (though he owes more to luck and the kindness of strangers). He survives—barely. Karim’s lessons (be wary of strangers, change currency on the black market, eat just one meal a day to save money) go only so far. Here, everyone’s a stranger. Abbas must learn to tell friend from foe. Kazerooni doesn’t dilute harsh events or assign them benign meanings retroactively—there’s no “everything happens for a reason.” Abbas’ anguish and fear, his repeatedly dashed hopes are wrenching. Yet whether he’s crushed or elated, the story itself is uplifting; readers will feel exhilarated when he solves a problem or makes the important discovery that what terrifies him—his vulnerability—is his biggest asset, bringing him notice from kindly adults who offer help. Other accounts of displaced children—China’s “paper sons,” young Central American refugees—have borne witness to ways human-generated calamities harm their weakest victims, but seldom this convincingly. Although Abbas’ account can be harrowing, it is told plainly, and these are not, regrettably, uncommon experiences for children, making this both accessible to and suitable for a middle-grade audience.
Readers are often promised unforgettable protagonists—this memoir delivers one. (author’s note) (Memoir. 9-14)