In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


In the Sea There are Crocodiles
I was fed up with being treated badly. I was fed up with the fundamentalists, the police who stopped you and asked you for your passport and, when you said you didn't have one, took your money and kept it for themselves. And you had to give them the money straight away, otherwise they took you to the police station and punched and kicked you. I was fed up risking my life,...

Ten-year old Enaiatollah Akbari's mother decides that Afghanistan is no longer safe for him. Enaiatollah's family belongs to the ethnic Hazara group, which has been subject to attacks by the Taliban. When her family comes under the Taliban's eye, Enaiat's mother decides to take him to Pakistan and leave him there to fend for himself, hoping he was safer away from their home. While this leaves Enaiat panicking for a while, he quickly slips into self-sufficiency mode and starts looking for work. Over time, he learns the tricks of survival and how to deal with people and win battles through clever cunning. He befriends other Afghan children making their lives in the Quetta district of Pakistan. After some success eking out a decent living and earning quite a bit, he starts thinking of leaving Pakistan and heading to Iran. And there starts a risky and dangerous adventure that eventually takes him to Italy.

In the Sea There are Crocodiles is a true story based on Enaiatollah's life. Originally written in Italian, it was translated into English by Howard Curtis. The author, Fabio Geda, has tagged it as fiction because he says that Enaiatollah didn't remember his journey perfectly. Enaiat and the author looked at maps and Google to help reconstruct the journey that Enaiat took. On the very first page, there is a map that lines out Enaiat's journey from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, to finally Italy. The entire journey spanned quite a few years with plenty of stops, detours and dangerous events in between.

Enaiat's life was anything but smooth. Finding himself suddenly on his own, without a close family member, and not knowing much about the basic lessons of fending for self, his only hope was for help of some kind from the very person who had housed him and his mother for the past three days. He quickly slips into his job proving himself useful. During his routine work, he comes across other Afghan boys. Later, as he moves from place to place, he always finds other Afghan boys like him, who are all trying to make a life on the streets and find a place they can feel safe in. It is this changing clan of friends from home that teach Enaiat many of his useful lessons in survival, and show him how to stay hidden from the authorities and find traffickers to help him move to another place. Although Enaiat starts as relatively unaware of the ways of the world, as the book progresses, we see him becoming more clever and in control of his circumstances. This comes to prove useful later.

Fabio's narration doesn't mince any harrowing experiences that Enaiat undergoes. There were times when I really had to pause and block out some of the horrifying images that his prose conjured up. Considering how, in spite of everything each country does to keep illegal immigrants out, there are still people crossing borders, it is obvious that the means to do so would not only be clever but also physically excruciating. Some of the tactics can truly kill - walking on thin shoes across mountainous terrains for weeks, packed with other people in a hidden cavity in a truck with your neck perpetually bent. In the Sea There are Crocodiles is a frank unflinching account of one such experience.

Although Fabio penned the book, it is in first person account, as if narrated by Enaiat himself. The narration is very direct and stripped of emotion. As Enaiat tells to Fabio many times (there are short exchanges of speech between the two, interluding the narration once in a while), his priority is to tell the story, and according to him, nothing else matters. That lack of emotion is what makes Enaiat's story occasionally hard to stomach. But that also means we do not get an insight into Enaiat's mind or the emotional impact of the events on any of the people in the book. Enaiat didn't believe in talking about people or places in relation to his experiences. He believed in facts, and while he had plenty of jaw-dropping facts, he didn't consider it necessary to share how he felt, other than on a very few occasions. As a reader, I would have loved to get more than facts on each page. There is no doubt that the experiences narrated in this book are significant and painful, and that with or without emotions, they will remain so, but I would have loved to see more exploration of the events - and his perspectives on a whole lot of things that he brings up. The mostly stick-to-facts approach also made it hard for me to get a fair perception of the time that has passed. The passages didn't do a fair justice to time.

In the Sea There are Crocodiles is a very short and quick book. There is a lot packed within the 200 pages that it leaves you thinking about illegal immigration from a different perspective. I haven't had much exposure to this subject other than from the more privileged side of the fence. And it's a different picture there, because the stress is more on what this means to the country where the people migrate to. Enaiat's story shows how life sucks for them wherever they are - constant moving is not just an option but a way of life. I was pained by how much they had to struggle to find a safe place for the night and was moved by the many close friendships that developed. And the experiences aren't graphic or too unsettling, except for a few times, but overall, it shouldn't disturb you. I would strongly recommend this read to anyone keen on a different shadier and riskier perspective on the illegal immigrant life.


I received this book for free for review from the publisher, Doubleday PublishingIn the Sea There are Crocodiles was released on August 9th.


27 comments:

Christina T said...

I have really been interested in reading this book. Excellent review! I really liked reading The Kite Runner but this should have more of an emotional punch since it is based on a true story. I don't know if I will like the writing style but I will be reading it anyway. From the way you describe it, it reminds me of Persepolis. When I read about Marjane Satrapi's childhood experiences in Iran in graphic novel form at times there was a sense of detachment because of the way the story was told. It was still moving and affecting and I am sure that will be the case with this book as well. Thank you for your well written and thorough review!

Veens said...

Wow! This is such an important book. I really want to, adding it to my wishlist. Poor kid - I really felt sad after reading that 1st quote. 

Juju at Tales of Whimsy... said...

Sounds moving. Great review.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

This sounds like a thought provoking book.  I'm anxious to read it.

zibilee said...

I am going to be reading this in the near future, and think that it sounds like there are a lot of interesting and also harrowing issues in the book. I think it's pretty neat that this book is based on the author's journey, and that makes me believe that it will be a very resonant and particularly interesting story. I loved this thorough and thoughtful review you provided us today, and am glad to hear that you thought the book was a success!

Ti said...

I didn't realize this book was so short. I have to tell you , the cover freaks me out a bit. Every time I see it I see amputated legs. I think legs and the word croc together is what causes this imagery to emerge.

The story sounds really good . I've not read a book on illegal immigration in so long. The last book I read was Tortilla Curtain (years and years ago).

nomadreader said...

This one sounds so interesting! I'm fascinated by immigration for some reason. I'm glad my library has a few copies on order too. Thanks!

Jill Broderick said...

What a powerful review!  It sounds like a really intense reading experience.  Funny that Ti saw amputated legs because I just saw suspended legs!

Nina Happyendings said...

Great review. It sounds like a really good read. I like short reads, and this one sounds perfect. A powerful, intense read. I haven't read a lot about immigration, so very interesting.

Helen Murdoch said...

I haven't heard of this one before, but it sounds so interesting. I love a book that gets me thinking about an issue from someone else's perspective. A book that makes me think, "hmmm. I didn't know that."

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Mummazappa said...

I'm really interested to read this, especially as it is a 'true story' and the insight it can offer into a difficult life - I always wonder about people who are so anti-immigration of refugees, I just can't understand how they can not view these people so negatively, and not as humans who have horrific stories and need a place to live and rest. 

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

Great review! I really like to read books that offer glimpses into another culture. This sounds like a great read.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you enjoy it. I agree with your comparison to Persepolis - there are some similar shades in here. The writing is detached, and although the book didn't disappoint me, I do wish I knew more about the person going through the experiences.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you enjoy it. I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks!

Athira / Aths said...

It certainly was. I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

Athira / Aths said...

I can't wait to hear your thoughts, Heather! This book certainly packed a punch and was hard reading at times. But the journey was worth it.

Athira / Aths said...

Now that you say it, I can't get the idea of amputated legs off my head. LOL! I never saw it that way - I was mostly reminded of a kid swinging his legs. Oh well.. I haven't read Tortilla Curtain, though I've heard it's wonderful. 

Athira / Aths said...

Hope you enjoy this. I'll be looking for your thoughts, if you choose to read it.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm with you - I also saw suspended legs or more like a kid swinging his legs. Now that Ti said amputated legs, I can't get it out of my head.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! It certainly was a different perspective on immigration. I hope you choose to read it.

Athira / Aths said...

This is just that book then - there was a lot of new-to-me information in this, plus the whole experience was very different from the usual displaced lives I've read about. Makes you really wonder about a lot of things.

Athira / Aths said...

I've had the same problem with government attitude to illegal immigrants too. I can understand a country or state wanting to look out for its own people - probably resources are thin, its own people are suffering or there are unemployment issues. But I can't figure out why they would beat and trash those who try to find a better place for themselves. All they did was choose life over death, how can that be a bad thing?

Athira / Aths said...

This certainly was - I hope you enjoy it.

Bibliophilebythesea said...

Aths, terrific review. I think I would enjoy this one. BTW - hope your brother in NYC is safe and thanks for the hurricane well wishes, I appreciate it!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! My brother's all set up for the weekend - I'm hoping it doesn't get bad!