Review Blog

Sep 25 2015

The boy with two lives by Abbas Kazerooni

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Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781743314838
(Ages: 13+) Fictionalised memoir. Ten-year-old Abbas arrives in England to start a new life having escaped from conscription into the Iranian army, and immediately after arriving in England Abbas is sent to boarding school by his guardian, Mehdi. Abbas struggles to overcome the language barrier and cultural differences, even commenting about an event at one point that 'In Iran this would never have happened, nor would it have been acceptable.' However, time passes and Abbas thrives, learning English quickly and gradually being accepted by his peers. His hard work and diligence win the approval of the kindly Mr and Mrs Griffiths, the principals of the school, who are sympathetic to Abbas.
But while Abbas is enjoying his new life in England, he worries about his family; especially his mother who is trying to gain a visa to enter England. Infrequent phone calls to his mother are the only connection Abbas has, and he clings desperately to hearing his mother's voice. And just when everything seemed to be going well for Abbas, he becomes homeless - living out the titular 'two lives' - one as the school boy at an elite public school, and the other as a poor, homeless child who spends his days working for a meagre wage just to survive.
Told in first person narrative, Kazerooni's memoir seizes our hands and drags us along. The book is about perseverance and sacrifice, but most of all - optimism. We experience the misery and the suffering along with Abbas, - but also share in his good times too; all give the reader an insight into his strength of character.
While Abbas possesses great optimism, the book itself can be quite depressing. I found that during the reading, the agony of his experiences was just too much. Because it is a memoir the fact that it really happened makes it even more depressing. Despite that, this book illustrates the plight of refugees, and it is a gripping account of how much some people are willing to sacrifice to have a better life.
Thomas B.

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