Friday, November 16, 2018

Memoir Review: On Two Feet and Wings

I have a bunch of nonfiction audio books to choose from for Nonfiction November, and I was unsure what to listen to next after finishing Trevor Noah's stunning memoir of his childhood in South Africa, Born a Crime (review to come). Even though it was also a childhood memoir, I was drawn to On Two Feet and Wings by Abbas Kazerooni. My instincts were right. I was riveted to this amazing story of resilience and survival, about the author's journey - alone - at age nine from Iran to Turkey in the 1980's.

Abbas had a normal, happy childhood in Iran, going to school, playing soccer with his friends, and riding his bike. His parents mostly shielded him from the horrors of the Iranian Revolution going on around them, though Abbas knew that they used to be wealthy and now lived in a modest home with just the basics. One day, he saw his parents conferring quietly for hours and his grandmother's somber face and knew something had changed. The Ayatollahs had lowered the age of conscription into the army to just eight years old, and his father was determined to save Abbas from that fate, as one young cousin had already come back in a coffin. His father's passport had been confiscated, so the plan was for Abbas and his mother to fly to Turkey and from there, get British visas so they could move to England where they had family. His father would join them when he could. They sold everything - even their beds and cooking pots - to buy two plane tickets, but at the airport, officials came up with a flimsy excuse as to why Abbas' mother couldn't leave. Terrified of the consequences, Abbas' father put Abbas on the plane alone and made arrangements for a friend in Istanbul to meet him. That "friend" did show up at the airport but quickly left Abbas on his own - at age 9, in a large foreign city where he didn't speak the language, with no friends or family.

How Abbas manages to survive is the subject of the rest of the memoir. This is one of those cases where fact is stranger than fiction, and Abbas' story is truly stunning. He definitely encountered some obstacles and had some dark times, but this smart, kind, clever boy did survive - and even thrive at times. I just kept thinking of my own sweet, innocent sons at that age and could not fathom what they would do in Abbas' situation. I listened to the audio book, which was excellent, narrated by the author and written from the perspective of his 9-year old self. I was captivated every moment and never wanted the story to end. Young Abbas is quite the hero here, battling fear, economics, lack of language, loneliness, bureaucracy, and sometimes even cruelty. It's an incredible story, uplifting and powerful, and I am so glad to have listened to it.
NOTE: I think perhaps the book was originally marketed to middle-grade or teen audiences, and it is perfect for them, as it is told from the perspective of a 9-year old boy, but it is an equally moving and powerful story for adults, especially on audio. I downloaded this audio book FREE from Sync this summer during its annual program of offering 2 free audio books each week during the summer. Click the link to sign up for e-mails so you can sign up for SYNC in 2019 - very often, their books are like this one - books I've never heard of before but am so glad I read/listened to.

223 pages, Skyscape
Brilliance Audio

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Listen to an audio sample from the beginning of the book and/or purchase the audio from Audible.

You can purchase On Two Feet and Wings from an indie bookstore, either online or locally, here:
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Or order On Two Feet and Wings from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.
from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. This sounds so good, it's definitely going on my TBR list.

    1. I think you will love it, Helen - a different kind of refugee story.

  2. It sounds good especially as it is a success story.

    1. Yes! I didn't want to give away any spoilers but clearly he managed to survive and get to England, since he wrote and narrated this memoir in English!