Sunday 8 October 2017

The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay

Review by Greenacre Writer Vasundra Jackison

If you have ever wondered what makes people risk their lives by crossing treacherous seas in overcrowded, dangerous boats, and how people- smugglers prey on desperate souls fleeing from war-torn countries, this is the book for you. Gulwali Passarley describes why he had to escape from Afghanistan as a frightened 12 year-old boy and how he survived 12 months of horrifying hardships before reaching safety in Britain.

I have heard somewhere that drowning is a peaceful death. Whoever said that hasn’t watched grown men soil themselves with fear aboard an overcrowded, broken down boat in the middle of a raging Mediterranean storm.

In 2006, his father and grandfather were suspected of being Taliban sympathisers and killed by US troops. Gulwali and his brother were then pursued by the Taliban to join them for revenge killings and by the US troops to become spies. His mother made the agonising decision to send them away.

Be brave. This is for your own good………………However bad it gets, don’t come back.

Gulwali had no idea what horrors lay ahead of him. Nor did he know anything of the outside world. He begged his mother to let him stay. But his fate was sealed. He was in the hands of ruthless and pitiless smugglers who treated the poor, miserable exiles with cruelty and contempt.

There’s a checkpoint coming up, you stupid little fool. Get off my train.

Terrified, Gulwali had to jump off a speeding train at that point in Bulgaria. He was imprisoned three times during the journey, where conditions were unspeakably vile.

Zig zagging across eight countries, enduring hunger, deportation, humiliation, cruelty and extreme despair, it is a wonder the boy made it to safety.

So many times on that awful journey I nearly didn’t make it……coming so close to drowning in Greece, on those endless treks without food or water when my young exhausted body wanted to give up and fade into blackness.

Gulwali experienced brutality not only from the smugglers, but from police officers too.

In Turkey…………..they walked me up another two flights until we stood at the very top of the stairwell. There they spun me around, and while I was still fighting for balance, shoved me backwards.

Here and there, the story does have characters that show some kindness. Some good people living in the mountains and certain fellow migrants do try to look out for him.

There are also some fascinating insights into the mindset of boys growing up in the closed world of a male-dominated culture. Gulwali does not think his sisters should go to school because they should be at home, cooking and cleaning. He feels strongly that women should always be covered, and is shocked when he sees the open faces of women in Turkey and Europe. But he grows up fast as he journeys towards safety.

When he finally reaches Britain, he has to battle with the authorities to gain recognition as a minor refugee, deserving of safe shelter, foster care and education. Eventually, Gulwali is granted asylum status. After graduating from university and winning many awards, he has become a vocal champion of democracy. He works tirelessly to highlight the horrors experienced by migrants and refugee children all over the globe. He plans to return to Afghanistan to help others when it is safe to do so.

As you read this story, you will feel sad, horrified, afraid, and angry. But you will also be amazed at the courage shown by Gulwali. This is an emotional read, but fascinating and powerful. It is beautifully written in a very easy flow style. An immensely rewarding read.

Thank you to Gulwali for the review copy.

The Lightless Sky is published by Atlantic Books

Follow Gulwali on Twitter: GulwaliP

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