The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay

The Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee's Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the WorldThe Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee’s Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World by Gulwali Passarlay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first-hand non-fiction account of an Afghan refugee’s journey from the land of the Taliban to the safety of the UK is both shocking and inspiring. Only twelve months old when he was sent forth by his mother into the hands of smugglers, he was a scared boy who became a man on his year-long journey. I was tempted to call it an adventure but that would put an unwarranted gloss on the hellish endurance race. At various times he was cheated, jailed, starved, beaten, robbed, held hostage, and shoved into poisonous chemicals that left him permanently scarred. It is a near miracle he made it to the UK, or even survived for that matter. He gives us a credible and very different view of life in an Afghan village and the views and attitudes of other Afghans. He also recounts many tales of kindness, bravery, and loyalty that allowed him to survive and ultimately reach the end of his flight.

This is the third non-fiction book I’ve read by authors who were there in Afghanistan’s war-torn regions. Two of them, there is no goat and Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor, were by U.S. military personnel. These three were written from very different political points of view, but one thing appears to be a common thread: the U.S. should not be there. We are doing no good for the people of Afghanistan and in fact are damaging our own security by bombing and other military action that serves only to help the Taliban and Al-Qaeda recruit future terrorists who hate the U.S. Nation-building in our democratic model simply does not work in that culture. The Afghans, at least the ones in the mountain areas controlled by the Taliban, do not want western values. Life was stable and good under Taliban control before the U.S. came. Of course there were some atrocious events like the stoning of women who were accused of some immorality, but the number of deaths and maimings and other atrocities there, such as bombings of hospitals and innocent family homes, has increased greatly under the U.S. occupation. At the same time we are putting the lives of U.S. service personnel at risk for no useful purpose, and every year producing a new crop of full body bags and limbless veterans with PTSD.

The author had a co-author, but the story is his. The writing would be remarkably good for someone of his background had he been the sole author, but it was still rather dull and repetitive with a generally whining I’m-a-victim tone to it. The co-author should have taken more of a lead role in cleaning it up. The author is clearly highly intelligent and his smarts played a big role in his success in getting to the UK, but he still seems to be carrying demons from his experience. I get the feeling he is still suffering from PTSD, although that is not mentioned in the book. His education and life in the west have clearly broadened and matured him. The chip has finally fallen from his shoulder, or so it seems. Yet there is still a part of him that hates the U.S. and the UK for their roles in bringing chaos to his world and his family with their invasion. He admits that had a few things gone differently he might very well have become radicalized and joined the terrorists.

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