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Book review: 'The Lightless Sky' tells modern-day refugee story

Posted May 7

"THE LIGHTLESS SKY," by Gulwali Passarlay, $25.99, 368 pages, HarperOne (f)

Gulwali Passarlay's story in "The Lightless Sky," written along with Nadene Ghouriis, is one of thousands of modern-day refugees trying desperately to find a way to survive after leaving their native land.

Passarlay tells his true story of how he and his brother were sent away from Afghanistan after his father was killed, and it was clear the Taliban wanted the brothers to join their forces. Their mother paid a handler thousands to get them out of their native country, telling them to go and, "However bad it gets, don't come back." She also told Passarlay to keep hold of his brother's hand, which was impossible for him to do, and the brothers were separated.

Alone, Passarlay was tossed into filthy transport vehicles and crammed into facilities with no water or bathrooms. He was forced to walk miles over mountains in the dark and wait long hours for food. He slept on cold cement floors, had little to eat and drink, and was at the mercy of professional smugglers who traded passage for money from the refugees' families. Some of these smugglers were trying to help, but most were in the business for the money and were simply greedy and untrustworthy.

It's a brutal story, one made more horrific because it's happening to thousands of people fleeing from countries torn apart by wars and internal strife today.

Passarlay showed remarkable strength and courage despite the odds against his survival. His journey took him to eight countries and across more than 12,000 miles.

He reached Turkey three times only to be moved back across the border he just crossed. He made friends only to be forced to leave them behind when he got a chance to move on. There was so much risk and danger like police checks and other harrowing experiences.

Even after he made it to Great Britain where he was treated reasonably well, he was not home free. His age was questioned, he couldn't speak the language and he couldn't count on asylum. Eventually, he got to stay, found his brother and got the chance to go to school. Ultimately, he became a torch-bearer for Great Britain for the 2012 Olympic Games.

He lived to tell his story against incredible odds.

"The Lightless Sky" is educational in that it takes the reader inside the refugees' world in a way that engages the reader in the struggle. It makes one wonder who the bad guy is: the police who try to keep the refugees out or the handlers who profit from helping them escape. It is an emotional, readable and haunting story.

There is no sexual content and no bad language in the book, but there is violence and suffering.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 40 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com

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