BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles: Based on the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari by Fabio Geda, translated by Howard Curtis

in-the-sea-there-are-crocodilesAlthough the cover bears the designation, “A Novel,” Enaiatollah Akbari – whose name also appears on said cover (who is not the book’s author, Fabio Geda) – is a real person. A kid, really. In case you need a face to place with the name, the back flap shows Enaiatollah in full color at age 15 …

No child, of course, should live through what Enaiatollah has … although millions must in order to survive the too many evils created by the adults around them. Enaiatollah is just 10 – “I say ten, although I’m not entirely sure when I was born” – when his harrowing odyssey across five countries commences with three promises he makes to his mother.

Enaiatollah and his mother flee their Afghan village, where Enaiatollah witnessed the brutal murder of his teacher by the Taliban. Already he is wise enough to insist, “.. that Afghans and Taliban are different. I want people to know this,” as he explains about the 20 Taliban who forced his school to shut down: “… there may not have been twenty different nationalities, but almost. Some couldn’t even communicate among themselves. Pakistan, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt. A lot of people think the Taliban are all Afghans … but they aren’t. … They’re ignorant … they stop children from studying because they’re afraid those children might come to understand that they don’t do what they do for God, but for themselves.

And what of those three promises? Before Enaiatollah’s mother leaves him in Pakistan to fend for himself – she has younger children waiting at home where Enaiatollah’s only alternative is death – he agrees to “three things [he] must never do in life”: use drugs, use weapons, and cheat or steal. She also reminds him “to always have a wish in front of your eyes … [because] it’s in trying to satisfy our wishes that we find the strength to pick ourselves up …” He will need to break a few promises as he endures deprivation and violence – as well as the surprising kindness of utter strangers – during his journey through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, before he arrives in Italy.

Italy is where Enaiatollah meets Fabio Geda, “an Italian novelist who works with children under duress,” according to Geda’s back flap bio. Enaiatollah approached Geda to “write his story down, so that people who had suffered similar things could know they were not alone, and so that others might understand them better,” Geda explains in his “Author’s Note.” Clearly that book got written, and translated the world over. While the book is “based on a true story … Enaiatollah didn’t remember it all perfectly,” hence the addition of the ‘novel’ appellation, ” … since it is the re-creation of Enaiatollah’s experience – a re-creation that has allowed him to take possession of his own story.”

Geda is a worthy conduit, “retelling the story exactly as [Enaiatollah] told it.” If you go audible, that veracity is further amplified, not so much by the Kabul-born, Orange County-raised actor Mir Weiss Najibi (who sounds more surfer boy than authentic), but because of the somber moderation (uncredited on the CD/audible cover) of the fabulous Mark Bramhall who voices Geda’s questions and comments to Enaiatollah and gently prods his difficult narrative along.

Geda notably channels Enaiatollah’s speech at his asylum hearing (oh, the irony of reading it in translation!) when Enaiatollah chose to not speak through an interpreter: “If you speak directly to people you convey emotions more intensely. Even if you stumble over your words and don’t get the intonation right, the message you get across is closer to what you have in your head, compared with what an interpreter could repeat … because emotions can’t come from the mouth of an interpreter, only words, and words are just a shell.” Translated these words may be, make sure to listen carefully to Enaiatollah’s story … we have so much to learn, out of the mouth of babes …

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)


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