Abbas Kazerooni, The Boy with Two Lives, Allen & Unwin, Sept 2015, 256pp., $15.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781743314838
Wow! On so many levels – just wow! Rarely does a book render me speechless but this second book from Iranian refugee Abbas Kazerooni has managed exactly that.
Tears, anger, frustration, relief, horror, pride, delight and disgust – emotions described within, but also felt by the reader on experiencing this beautifully written story of hardship, struggle and determination.
The Boy With Two Lives is a memoir, and reflects Abbas’ life in England from ages ten through thirteen. This is the time in which his visa (but not his life) is sponsored by his moody and violet cousin, he attends boarding school but is rarely collected for weekends and holiday breaks, and he constantly struggles to keep the secret of his refugee status and all that entails, hidden from his friends. Abbas endures life at its hardest – loss of a loved one, responsibility for his own safety, injury, bullying, illegal work under horrific conditions, but worst of all an unshakeable loneliness due to his secret life and physical separation from his parents. Abbas struggles, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, pushes himself to keep going, and is forced to struggle some more. Over and over and over, past the point when most of us would have given up. Underpinning it all, though, is an incredibly sturdy resolve and undying will to succeed, in spite of what life has thrown at him. Despite disgusting treatment from people who should have cared, and mounting evidence that life is against him, Abbas wants to learn, to improve his school grades, to make his mother proud and to be a good person.
A deeply moving and saddening story, Abbas writes cleanly and descriptively about his experiences. Despite the difficult subject matter, this book is suitable for upper primary/secondary readers. There is very little by way of foul language, gory detail or overstated horror. The story is told, it seems, by the child and through a child’s eyes. Readers will be challenged by this story – emotionally and psychologically, and question the very nature of society. Could I have endured what he did? How could this happen? Where were the adults he should have been able to rely on? These questions and more rise through the narrative. But, heartbreakingly, the authenticity of this story is never in question. And therein lies the genius.
Reviewed by Katie Bingham