Michael Crowley tells a story of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants fleeing war, poverty, domestic violence and other horrors crossing continents to try to find a better life.
He has talked to many who have made these often terrifying, and sometimes deadly, journeys. This novel draws on the legion of stories they have told him.
It begins with the US invasion of Afghanistan. An airstrike in a village in Baghlan in the north destroys a family home, killing the father. Farood is very young and will be lucky to survive the journey.
But the family’s remaining wealth, a flock of sheep, is sold to pay a people smuggler to get him to Britain.
The hope is he will somehow be able to restore the family’s fortune. Surviving the cold and hunger, he crosses Iran, Turkey and Greece. Sometimes forced to retrace his steps, he finally makes his way to Britain.
He grows up abused and exploited, then set up by his kebab shop boss for a killing he didn’t commit.
In jail he masters the survival skills of prison life. He escapes to become a people-smuggler, working with those he has got to know inside and, in a limited way, feels he can trust.
Having been trafficked, he quickly adapts to the everyday brutality of the job. It’s a vile business and Farood’s story, which finishes with him back in his village, is told absolutely straight, warts and all. There is no attempt to idealise Farood’s character. Nor is there any moralising.
Baghlan Boy cuts through the hypocrisy and lies we are being fed by politicians and the media.
It’s also a page-turning thriller that powerfully reflects the tension and dramas faced by refugees and migrants in a world that has neither peace nor security.