The story of a boy’s flight from a rapidly unraveling, murderous Afghanistan.
Passarlay was 12 years old when his mother gave him strict orders: “Be brave. This is for your own good….However bad it gets, don’t come back.” His father, suspected by U.S. troops of cooperating with the Taliban, had been killed during a raid on their house, and this was no time for his sons to stick around. Thus begins the author’s tale of his long odyssey west, a journey that would take him halfway around the world. Passarlay and his brother were separated early on, so the author had to survive on the wiles of a 12-year-old, which boiled down to him getting taken at every turn, giving a child’s trust to one smooth- talking or brutish fixer after another. Occasionally, Passarlay’s youthful voice sounds a little too worldly—“Despair filled my pockets like stones”—but the author provides all manner of small incidents and moments of awakening that leave a lasting impression: “I had never see a blonde woman before,” he notes in Germany; “I had had such high expectations for Paris, the city where perfume rained from the skies. And yet all I had witnessed was a dirty, smelly, and cold city, filled with Parisians who shied away from us in horror.” Mostly, this journey is a mare’s- nest of misery—dirty, hungry, homesick, scared—but Passarlay had one trick up his sleeve. As a clever young kid, he could hide and stow away. He eventually made it to London, traumatized—“The next day I calmly walked into a pharmacy and bought a bottle of paracetamol. Then I swallowed them all”—and the nightmares linger, eight years after.
A vivid, timely story of survival. If spies live in boredom punctuated by flashes of terrifying action, then refugees on the run live in constant high anxiety punctuated by flashes of horror and panic.