When approaching a story, an author has to make many choices. Sometimes, there is a choice to be made with two clear options; no matter which the author chooses, doubt is sure to snare the reader: wouldn't it have been better if...?
Such a problem may be facing Fabio Geda's In the Sea There Are Crocodiles. In the Sea... is “based on the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari.” Akbari, who is most often referred to in the novel as Enaiat, was taken across the border of his home in Afghanistan into Pakistan by his mother when he was ten years old. She left him there without explanation or instruction. What ensues is an eight year struggle, through deserts, over mountains, across seas, to find a place of belonging (the book description itself says “five years,” but that doesn't appear to include Enaiat's three years in Italy, which concludes the book).
The perilous journey is fascinating. The narrative voice, essentially the story being told by Enaiat, is captivating and original. Here is where the aforementioned choice comes in, however. In the Sea... is told in a simple, almost fairytale-like manner. It works great, but it leaves the reader with little to hang onto. The story ignores details, names, and events; Enaiat is looking beyond these, focused on the task. When Enaiat is first abandoned, he picks up and moves right along. During the arduous twenty-six day trek over the Zagros Moutains, the story keeps moving. Leaving friends behind and watching compatriots fall to the side, Enaiat does not pause, but moves right on along. I get it, he keeps moving, and that's probably why he survives. Without the details and the chance to reflect, however, the story does not resonate with the reader. It's a fabulous fable, with a moral not to be forgotten, but it lacks the intensity—both emotionally and concretely—to be memorable.
I think Geda made the right choice with In the Sea.... I love Enaiat's voice. And it is certainly an easy read, likely to be picked up by those too squeamish to read a large book, especially one with the heart wrenching details I'm sure it would include. Part of me wants to know what if?; I want the other half of the story; I want to feel the pain, not just be delighted at the fairytale ending.
Regardless of the method used to tell it, Enaiat's story is beautiful and beguiling. It took Enaiat Akbari eight years to live it; it's certainly worth the few hours it takes to read it.