The Lightless Sky My Journey to Safety as a Child Refugee (2019)

Published by: tgiuk

Published on: 5 May, 2024

by Alison Hramiak

Gulwali Passarlay with Nadene Ghouri
Atlantic Books, London

Review by Alison Hramiak

Alison reflects on the story of an Afghan child, leaving home and making the perilous journey to a new life in the UK.

Right at the start, the dedication, short though it is, brings home the reality of the story that unfolds in this lovely book. This, along with the map which shows the measure of the travels, and does so in a global sense, by using two different scaled maps, very much introduces the reader to an immense journey undertaken by a child.

Despite the horrors of the reality endured by the author, the book is easy to read and moves along at pace. The story is gripping and engaging, even if it does make you cold inside at the thought of man’s inhumanity to man, as you progress through the pages.

Having read the prologue, I was keen to know more, silently hoping that this small boy whose story I was reading, eventually reaches a positive, even happy ending. The book starts with poignant descriptive detail of the child’s early years in Afghanistan, and of the context and characters in his life there. It allows the reader some sense of the culture and love that surrounded him as he grew up in a warm and loving family. His memories of the early years in his home country are a joy to behold and contrast starkly with the terror and uncertainty of the long voyage, and the gruesome details as he travels from home to the UK. This journey is not just geographical, it also encompasses a shift in culture, identity and sense of belonging and self, and this is very vividly transferred to the reader from the pages as you read on.

The photos included in the book add to the honesty and authenticity of the narrative and, do indeed paint a thousand words, supporting, as they do, the voyage described in the pages. The humanity and sincerity of the storyteller sings from the pages and, although this is not an easy read – readable though it is – it is an illuminating and sobering account that serves to demonstrate the plight of one boy, a plight which reverberates around the world for many millions like him. Too many like him, in this ‘enlightened’ age.

The ending of the book resonates with similar stories, such as those in ‘Hear Our Stories – An Anthology of Writings on Migration’ (2023) and attest to the all too many like him in this world. The last four lines, however, provide a very fitting end and contain a slice of hope, a light in the darkness, for us all to grasp onto. 

‘If I have one single dream it is this: that a child in the future will read this book and ask,

“What was a refugee?”
We can change the world. All of us together. We can.
We can end this’.

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