No one chooses to be a refugee from a war-torn homeland, but if that is the hand you are dealt, try Arthur Biyarslanov’s approach.
Biyarslanov was born in Chechnya in 1995, as Chechen separatists waged their grindingly endless civil war against Russia. When he was 3, the family headed south to Azerbaijan. Spray captures little glimpses of Arthur’s young life—stealing fruit from the tree of his next-door neighbor and the old lady who gives him a talisman (a dog biscuit) to ward off jinni—as well as the sadness, lack of language, deprivation, and fear. The story here is of Arthur’s gradual rise in the world of sports, first in Azerbaijan and then after the family moved to Toronto, Canada. Spray conjures the strange settings refugees and immigrants find themselves in. “Hey little man, whatchoo lookin’ at anyhow?” asks a tall Jamaican teenage neighbor when Arthur lands in Toronto’s St. James Town projects. “I am no to English,” Arthur replies. “All be cool. I be no English too...is no big thang.” (Dialogue is not specifically sourced, but a teeny note on the copyright page indicates that Spray relies on extensive interviews.) Arthur is a whiz at soccer but chooses boxing, where he is even whizzier, rising from his first real bout at 12 to the Canadian Olympic team.
Readers will marvel at Biyarslanov’s resilience and pluck. (Biography. 10-14)