Book Review: The Lightless Sky

By Bolu Coker

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

The Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee’s Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World
By Gulwali Passarlay
HarperOne, 2016

Reviewed by Bolu Coker

The Lightless Sky is an inspiring personal account of a twelve-year old boy’s journey to safety from Afghanistan to Europe. Gulwali Passarlay tells a story that brings to life the precarity of refugees’ living conditions on their journeys to refuge.

Fearing the Taliban, Passarlay’s mother arranges for him and his brother to be smuggled out of the country. The brothers are separated early on, leaving Passarlay at the mercies of smugglers and other refugees he encounters along the way. Upon hearing of his brother’s arrival in England, Passarlay defies all odds— smugglers’ extortion, multiple imprisonments, and even a near-death experience— to be reunited with his brother.

Gulwali Passarlay’s story is a vivid example of the challenges refugees—especially unaccompanied minors, who comprise a large proportion of global refugees—face in their search for safety. He tells of how his young age did not mean much in the face of his struggle to safety, as smugglers exploited him and other refugees, treating them like “just another dollar.” Nonetheless, The Lightless Sky is full of various moments that highlight the resilience and tremendous sacrifices refugees have and make on their journeys.

It also provides readers with an opportunity to reflect on our perceptions of refugees who seek safety without proper documentation. By relaying stories of life in his family as a boy, Passarlay humanizes refugees and shows that desperation often supersedes all else in vulnerable situations. He shows that anyone, whether from a stable home or otherwise, can become a refugee. He invites us think better of refugees, not as threats or exploiters, but as people whose shoes we could be in, given the circumstance.

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