On Two Feet and Wings is the partially autobiographical account of how Abbas Kazerooni left his home and family in Tehran, fled to Istanbul and sought asylum in the UK. It’s not the first book to look at such a challenging journey but this one is different because the asylum seeker was just 9 years old at the time of his adventure. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian authorities were desperate for more young men to send to the front. So desperate that they dropped the age at which boys could be drafted to the forces to just 8 years old. Kazerooni’s father was under surveillance by the authorities and believed that it was very likely that they would start by drafting the sons of their enemies first, sending them off to almost certain death. The family planned for Abbas and his mother to flee to Istanbul and apply for asylum and they sold up all their belongings to raise money for their journey.
At the airport everything went badly wrong and as a result Abbas had to travel to Istanbul on his own. On Two Feet and Wings tells of what happens to him when he gets there. He finds good people and bad people – a taxi driver who goes out of his way to help, a jeweller who seems to be involving him in some unclear naughtiness (probably drug carrying), strangers who translate for him and consulate officials who take pity on him. The owner of the hotel where he stays – a grimy and rather grim place – becomes a good friend who protects him from the worst of the big city but also teaches him to play a mean game of backgammon and gives him work polishing shoes and serving drinks. He becomes the ‘Little Man’ that both locals and the other Iranian émigrés want to help and support.
We follow Abbas as he learns to survive without his family in the big city where he doesn’t speak the language or understand the systems. His father won’t let him talk to his mother on the phone for fear of them upsetting each other and Abbas knows he’s loved but also that he cannot depend on his family any more. The process of applying for refuge is a long and complex one and Abbas must eke out his savings and live on his wits.
“I sincerely hope that Hachette in Europe will release this soon as it’s a beautiful, compelling and inspiring story.”
I received my copy of the book in a box of goodies that was sent to me by the lovely people at Hachette India. I’m unclear why I got this one as I don’t recall asking for it (I may have done – I just don’t remember) but it really was right up my street. I love books set in Iran almost as much as I love those set in India. On Two Feet and Wings is classified as a children’s book but there’s nothing childish about the story or the way in which it is told. It might be classified in that ambiguous category of ‘Young Adult’ if it were released in the UK but this is not a compromise or watered down story. Despite it’s young audience, Kazerooni doesn’t pull his punches and the experiences he relates will most likely make children and young adults think very seriously about how they might react in similar circumstances. I’m a well travelled adult and I can honestly say I wouldn’t fancy my chances of getting through the experiences recounted in this book.
I would never knowingly go out and buy a YA book but I consider myself lucky to have landed a copy of this great tale. It’s not entirely factual but it is entirely believable. The courage shown by young Abbas ought to serve as a great example to young people everywhere as a great example that there can be worse things in your childhood than not being instantly given the latest must have computer games console.
I doubt that many young people today would be aware of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian revolution or the diaspora that was caused by both. In that respect this is educationally and historically interesting. I also think a lot of children are confused (let’s be honest, a lot of adults are) about issues of immigration, asylum and religious and political persecution and I hope that a book such as this will help them to see that there’s more to immigration than the Daily Mail taunts of ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’. Some may find the absence of a classic ‘story book ending’ disappointing but it’s clear from early on that there’s very little prospect for a transposed nuclear family. Without giving away the ending but in the interests of reassuring any parents who might worry about a shocking or disturbing outcome, I can assure you that all ends safely and broadly speaking ‘well’ but not particularly predictably.
Unfortunately if you want a copy of On Two Feet and Wings and you don’t have access to an Indian friend who can send you one, you are going to be in trouble. It’s not currently listed at all on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com which is a real shame. I sincerely hope that Hachette in Europe will release this soon as it’s a beautiful, compelling and inspiring story.
With sincere thanks to Hachette India for my copy and with a plea to rush this out so that other people in Europe can have a chance to enjoy it as much as I did.
On Two Feet and Wings by Abbas Kazerooni
Published by Hachette India, March 2011
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