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Alone in Istanbul
At first glance, one is tempted to dismiss On Two Feet and Wings as yet another wannabe bestseller - one more opportunistic book in the growing-upamidst-mad-mullahs-and-shattered-homeland subgenre. But this novel, which is based on a true story, is a refreshing account of a young boy's determination and ingenuity, as well as the kindness of strangers.
The story begins on a hot afternoon in Tehran, when 9-year-old Abbas suddenly finds that his life has been turned upside down. The Iran-Iraq war is at its bloodiest, and Ayatollah Khomeini has reduced the recruitment age to 8. Frantic, Abbas' father decides to sell every battered sofa and shabby desk in their once-opulent mansion and send his wife and son to Istanbul and safety. Once there, the plan is that Abbas and his mother will try to get a British visa.
The tickets are bought and a handful of dollars organised, but the officials at the Tehran airport refuse to allow Abbas' mother to leave the country. Which is how young Abbas finds himself all alone outside the busy Istanbul airport one chilly night, guarding his meagre luggage, clutching a list of cheap hotels and sobbing inconsolably.
What, one wonders, would have happened if a concerned cabbie had not spotted the terrified boy and ferried him across the city in search of a decent room? Would Abbas Kazerooni have survived to tell the tale? Mercifully, though, the boy gets lucky, and the taxi carries him through streets full of graffiti, drunks and shabby buildings to a dingy but decent hotel.
Over the next 14 weeks, Abbas grows up fast and learns to survive - to ignore the dark staircase, cracked paint and repulsive bathroom of his new home;to subsist on a single daily meal of bread and yoghurt;to make a little extra money serving tea and shining shoes;to navigate the huge and clamourous city without getting into trouble;and to figure out whom he can trust.
Along the way Abbas meets many sympathetic souls - from the backgammon-loving hotel manager Mourat to the Iranian woman who helps translate his tale at the British Consulate. But it is finally his grit that allows him to overcome homesickness, hunger and violence.
On Two Feet and Wings is written simply and often deals with mundane challenges like identifying the correct bus route or finding the best exchange rate for the dollar. But Abbas' tale is so absorbing that it reads like a stomach-clenching thriller.
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