Book Review: In the Sea There are Crocodiles: Based on the True Story of Enaiatollah Akbari by Fabio Geda ★★★


“Everyone (including me) is interested in staying alive, and in order to stay alive we’re willing to do things we don’t like.”

This was a very moving story, packed into a unique, powerful little book. I was fully invested in Enaiatollah Akbari’s account of his youth in Afghanistan, and how his life changed forever when he was forced to leave. The story is very engrossing, however it is a little short and I felt that some more time could have been spent on certain subjects. However, who am I to say how his story should be told? As far as the book itself, I give it 3.5 stars.

I really enjoyed the style of this book, but I can see that it might not be everyone’s favorite. It is basically written in interview style, where the author of the book is just recording Enaiatollah Akbari’s story. He occasionally interjects with a question or comment, but for the most part, Akbari is just talking. It was an interesting way to convey the story. It was simultaneously very personal and kind of distant.

I thought it was a great way to recount Akbari’s experiences, but as I mentioned, it felt like he was keeping the reader at arm’s length a lot of the time. He would skip over parts of a time period or scene that seemed more important to me or that I would have wanted to learn more about. If the author asked him about it, Akbari would say it was not relevant to his story. I think in some ways, this distant, matter-of-fact narration is even more telling of the traumas that Akbari went through. Almost as if he simply can’t dwell on certain events or times in his life, because thinking about them or talking about them will destroy him (just my theory on this, of course; I do not know for sure). Almost like a coping mechanism. I understand that, so I was fine with how he glossed over certain parts or truncated scenes. It seemed real and authentic to me.

It was absolutely still heartbreaking to read about all of the things that Akbari and many other children went through. I couldn’t believe some of the things I read about here. And, until we got to a scene where he was watching a “movie” of two towers collapsing on TV, I would have sworn up and down that this book was written in the 70’s or sometime around then. It was 2001?! How?! It is deeply unsettling to know that things like this still happened then and are surely still happening now. I cannot fathom how dire a situation would be for a mother to sneak her child to another country and then just abandon him there. Akbari mentioned something like “it was better he die trying for a better life, than die in the one his mother knew would kill him.” He of course, said this quite stoically, which made it all the more upsetting. He harbored no ill feelings toward his mother for abandoning him, just said that was probably the best option.

The rest of his story is equally as as tragic and harrowing. There are touches of kindness here and there, bits of humanity that are all the more precious because they are rare in his life. He treats those in the same removed manner, but they feel heartfelt nonetheless. He continues his story up until he reaches Italy and finds some stability and safety with a faster family there. He tells us about sleeping on the streets, crossing freezing mountains, working in a dangerous stone factory, sailing across the sea on a tiny dingy, losing friends, etc. before reaching Italy. It is very sad and very moving, so much more so because his style makes those trials and dangers seem so normalized. Which, I guess to him, they are.

The book is very short and does a great job of portraying one boy’s escape and survival. The tone might not be for everyone, but the matter-of-fact delivery and the hints of wry humor throughout the book (jokes between the author and Akbari, as well), worked for me. There are great quotes within the story, too, and you can tell that Akbari is already so changed and wisened by his early experiences. I’d love to know more of his life and continue his story, if he were to talk about more. I recommend this one for a quick, less in depth look at tragic events such as this and tales of survival coming from the Middle East.

I was so frightened during the boat scene. I can’t believe they did that.

Thank you for reading, friends!

Title: In the Sea There are Crocodiles: Based on the True Story of Enaiatollah Akbari
Author: Fabio Geda
Genre: Nonfiction | Biography | Memoir | Survival | Cultural
Publication Date: August 9th, 2011
Page Count: 215
Buy It:  Book Depository Wordery

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