The Boy With Two Hearts by Hamed Amiri – Review
By Sandra Callard
Author Hamed Amiri was born in Afghanistan in 1990 and left it in 2000, or rather fled from it, along with his parents and two brothers. His mother had made a public speech affirming the rights of women – a brave thing to do in the Taliban-ruled town of Herat – and the result for her was a death sentence. Within hours the family had sold everything they owned and fled through the night to escape. This debut book is a record of their journey, which is terrifying, uplifting and fascinating, but which sees them eventually arrive to England and safety.
The title refers to Amiri’s elder brother, Hussein, who had been born with a heart condition that necessitated them seeking out whatever medical attention the family could obtain, and which severely curtailed Hussein’s physical activities. His diseased heart was the first heart. The second was the loving, funny and optimistic heart that was a joy to his family, and particularly to his younger brothers, Hamed and Hessam. Hussein coped with the difficulties and fears of his illness in a pragmatic and humorous way. He never complained, he attempted to join in all the boys’ games, especially football, and generally lifted the spirits of those around him.
The book is written in an understated and almost naive style as the author recounts the hair-raising and dangerous episodes the family encountered in the months and years of their journey. The family could only speak Farsi, the local language of Herat, and had learned only one essential word of English on their journey, which was ‘refugees’. Their amazement is manifest when the customs official in England asks them “Farsi or Pashto?”, meaning which of the two local languages did they speak, as they sent for an interpreter.
“Unbelievable that they survived”
Their gratitude and love for England shines from the pages, as does their slow and wondering acceptance of safety and freedom. The boys’ parents are committed to repaying the acceptance and help they received on their arrival, and all three boys later obtained university degrees, and attained eminent positions in their chosen fields.
We hear much about refugees and immigrants, legal and illegal. Luckily the Amiri family had clutched their very legal passports close to their chests for every moment of their tumultuous journey, which meant that they were allowed into England fairly quickly and were processed into the system. They were eventually given a flat in Cardiff where the boys went to university and their father found work.
The Amiri family had legal papers to allow them into England, but they still had to use the handlers to get them onto various trucks and conceal them. Some took their money then abandoned them in the middle of nowhere. Others left them for hours in driving rain and cold, with no food, as they waited for the next truck to find them. It is almost unbelievable that they survived and the times they almost didn’t were numerous.
Although the Amiri family had legal passports, they journeyed through Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and many other places of which they never found the names. They did arrive in England and they did beat the odds. The Boy With Two Hearts is very simply told, with nothing superfluous, but it is still a brilliantly compulsive and very original read.
‘The Boy With Two Hearts’ by Hamed Amiri is published by Icon Book, £16.99 hardback