Friday, 29 November 2013

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles: The Story of Enaiatollah Akbari
Fabio Geda
Trans. Howard Curtis
London, Vintage, 2012, 211p

I am a little apprehensive about reviewing novels about characters from the middle east due to my lack of knowledge about the subject. Today, it is written about increasingly, with authors having varying levels of experience or understanding - so although some of the novels are fact-based and informative, others romanticise or orientalise.

Regardless, I enjoyed reading In the Sea There Are Crocodiles. Enaiat is an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, left to fend for himself at the age of ten, when his mother decides he will be safer away from his family and his home. He travels across the middle east into Europe, placing his trust in strangers and stowing away in the back of lorries and buses and boats.

The story is told through Enaiat's conversation with Fabio, but we are told it is as close to Enaiat's true voice as possible. Tthe language tends to be childlike and beautiful, but Enaiat does not go into much detail, prefering to just tell us the key facts rather than explain what everything landscape looked like. Occassionally, the story is broken up with snippets of conversation between Fabio and Enaiat, as Fabio asks for clarification or detail and Enaiat tries to keep the story on track.

I cannot claim to know if this is an honest depiction of the journey taken by an asylum seeker - especially as there must be thousands of different experiences - but I feel enlightened having read this novel. It challenged me to further question some of those subconscious assumptions we carry in the West and made me feel incredibly grateful for everything I am blessed to have. It is scary to think Enaiat is the same age as me.

For the young reader, Enaiat's story is an accessible way to develop a better understanding of other cultures and experiences. Enaiat is one of the few lucky ones.

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