One of the things the Iran/Iraq war is famous for was their use of child soldiers. It got to where 9-year-olds were about to be “recruited.” Knowing 9-year-old Abbas would be called up soon, Mr. and Mrs. Kazerooni were desperate to get their son to England, via Istanbul for a visa.
Because of the harsh regulations of the regime, the only option his parents had was unthinkable: send Abbas on his own. His baba set it up for someone to meet him at the airport and help him get his visa. And the man did meet him. Then gave him a list of cheap hotels and left. Abbas didn’t even speak the language.
During his three months in Istanbul, Abbas encounters many kind, helpful people. In fact, nothing but. When they realize he is Persian (Iran was originally called Persia) and is there by himself, they know exactly what’s going on and they want to help him. And there is always someone nearby who speaks Farsi and can translate for him.
The hotel is a fleabag, but Abbas does almost well there. He’s unbelievable sharp for a 9-year-old and has a brilliant entrepreneurial mind. He comes up with ways to not only survive, but make money and friends as he waits to get his visa. He also turns out to be unbeatable at backgammon. Oh, and he discovers television, in particular, Knight Rider.
Abbas practically strong arms his way into the consulate the first time, but, again, finds nothing but kind, helpful people. Things go as well as they possible could because they know Abbas is fleeing from the Iran/Iraq war and his almost-certain fate and death as a child soldier, so he does get his visa with very little trouble. He goes to England, his cousin meets him, and they all live happily ever after.
Yeah, right. It’s all just much too pat, too easy, if a 9-year-old making his way in a county where he knows no one and doesn’t speak the language can every be considered easy. I kept waiting for him to run into the guy who steals all his money or forces him into slavery or his visa to be denied, but it never happened.
The thing is, it’s a true story. His parents really did have to send him on his own, little Abbas really was that good at backgammon, and that bright and creative, and really did meet only kind, wonderful, helpful people there. There’s a wonderful moment at the consulate where they show him the shiny new visa affixed to his passport.
There are more very sweet moments than I can list here. This is my favorite: When the head of the consulate takes a personal interest in his story, he calls Abbas back to his office and offers him hot chocolate and cookies, because that’s his son’s favorite.
At the end of the book, Mr. Kazerooni thanks the reader for reading his story. Besides the entire book, there are some particularly poignant moments, such as when he says, “There were many stories like mine, and my tale was by no means the most difficult or the most tragic.”
This is history it is important to remember.