6,000 Miles to Freedom: Two Boys and Their Flight from the Taliban

The title 6,000 Miles to Freedom: Two Boys and Their Flight from the Taliban is an apt distillation of the stunning graphic odyssey it entails. Author/director Stéphane Marchetti adapts the striking narrative from his 2017 documentary with Thomas Dandois, Les enfants de la jungle, illuminating the wrenching experiences of two refugee boys. Award-winning comics artist Cyrille Pomès infuses every panel with the dynamic motion of their flight. And versatile Hannah Chute, fast becoming a go-to translator of graphic works, deftly enables French-to-English access.

Adel, 12, and his 16-year-old cousin, Shafi, steal moments of unrestrained joy in a ragtag game of cricket, despite the surrounding destruction in war-torn Afghanistan. Tragedy is unavoidable: Adel's father dies. Then his uncle marries his mother and sends an unwilling Adel to a madrasa where the youngest are recruited for martyrdom. When Adel's suicide bombing mission fails, the Taliban and the Afghan police make it impossible for him to return home. He and Shafi flee; horrors and kindness define their 6,000 miles toward freedom.

Testimonies from refugee youth inform Marchetti's story, its timely urgency inspiring a reading in one sitting. Pomès wields blocks of muted earth tones, as if reminders to stay earthbound, stay alive and eschew the fundamentalist declarations of martyred heaven. His phenomenal panels capture the journey from Afghanistan to the Pakistan/Iran border (green-tinged browns), into Europe (evergreens) and then to the open water to make it to France's Calais Jungle refugee camp (grayish blues), all leading to the possibility of a new life (a reddish-brown palette). Human survival proves remarkable, perhaps even more so through the resilience of young people. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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