One of the great pleasures of writing for Curious Book Fans is getting the opportunity to indulge your curiosity by carrying out a Q&A with the author of a book you’ve loved or admired. In the case of Abbas Kaazerooni’s book ‘On Two Feet and Wings‘ I knew within the first few pages that when I got to the end I would want to know more. It’s a fascinating and largely autobiographical account of leaving his homeland of Iran when he was just nine years old and having to make his own way in the world, first in Istanbul and later in the UK. As someone who has visited Iran and is fiercely interested in its history and culture, the placing of his story during the Iran-Iraq war meant this was always going to be right up my street. What I didn’t expect was how attached I would become to the young Abbas and how much I’d want to know about the man he has become and the lessons he hopes that people – young and older – will take from his book. I have seldom found it easier to generate a bunch of questions or been more interested in what the replies would be. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed quizzing this author.
CBF: The story is clearly based on your experience but it not fully autobiographical. What are the key areas which you changed and why did you do make those changes?
Abbas Kazerooni: Obviously I have taken some artistic liberty. However, you will be surprised to know that the more shocking parts of the book are true. Some of the names have been changed, either because I did not remember the characters’ real names and/or for personal reasons related to my family. Also I have taken some discretion with the dialogue. I would say that 70-80% of the book is factual; and I make that estimation conservatively. I made the changes with the dialogue because I obviously could not remember the exact conversations and needed to write with a little artistic license. I also think that it makes for a better read. But I did try and keep the essence of the conversations and the characters as real as I possibly could all these years later.
CBF: Young Abbas learns a lot about how to judge who he can trust and who he can’t. Do you have any suggestions what key messages young readers should take away from the book about their interactions with strangers?
Abbas Kazerooni: For young readers,the key message would be not to interact with strangers at all unless you can help it. However, if you are put in a position where you have to interact with adult strangers, I would say, always trust your first instinct/s. I found that my gut reaction was 9/10 times the correct reaction. However, as much as I say that, I look back and see that human kindness really does exist. On so many occasions, my ability to survive and accomplish my tasks were directly related to the kindnesses of complete strangers.
Abbas Kazerooni: That is a great question. I had no idea to be honest. I guessed that children between the ages of 9-15 would be most curious about this book. I have, however, been completely overwhelmed by the response of adult readers. In fact I would say that adults have reacted and supported the book to a greater extent than younger readers. But it is still early days!
CBF: Do you think children today know ‘anything’ about the Iran-Iraq war and is it important to you that they should know about it?
Abbas Kazerooni: I do not think that worldwide children really know about it. I believe that all history is important, especially where we had a conflict for almost a decade. So many people from bot Iran and Iraq died. That cannot and should be ignored and thus it is historically significant. We can always learn so much from history on so many different levels. I do not want to get side tracked as I may accidentally end up writing a different book as a response to this question; so in short, yes, I believe it is important!
CBF: What were the biggest challenges you faced when you found yourself alone and reliant on your wits at such a young age? How have these helped you in your adulthood?
Abbas Kazerooni: Wow – that is another question that I can write so much about. I think the biggest challenge at the beginning was dealing with the loneliness. It is very mentally challenging for a child to deal with loneliness, boredom and the idea of knowing that there is no one that he can turn to for help with small and complex matters. On a very basic level, this has taught me to be self reliant, love working and have the innate ability to always keep myself busy.
CBF: I’d like to know more about YOU today – where do you live, do you have children and if so what do they know and understand about your childhood experience?
Abbas Kazerooni: I am 33 years old. I live in California, USA and work as a lawyer. I do not have any children.
CBF: What lessons do you hope young readers will take from your book about the immigrant experience and particularly the lives of asylum seekers?
Abbas Kazerooni: In today’s society unfortunately we still encounter a lot of social biases and prejudice. People sometimes tend to make assumptions about immigrants and after having read this book, I would hope that a child would not always jump to conclusions. There is always a story behind each individual and we should try and be less judgmental prior to knowing all the facts.
CBF: Were you ever tempted to give the book a more conventionally ‘happy’ ending?
Abbas Kazerooni: Well the book initially actually had a more ambiguous ending, which could have been deemed even more sad! But the truth is that the story has not ended. Without giving too much away, I will tell you that it got worse before it get better.
Thanks to Abbas Kazerooni and koshkha for making this interview for Curious Book Fans.
On Two Feet and Wings by Abbas Kazerooni has been published by Hachette India, March 2011
You can read the review of On Two Feet and Wings here…
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