The Naked Don’t Fear the Water: An Underground Journey with Afghan Refugees by Matthieu Aikins - review by Judith Vidal-Hall

Judith Vidal-Hall

Along the Smugglers’ Road

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water: An Underground Journey with Afghan Refugees


Fitzcarraldo Editions 384pp £12.99

Matthieu Aikins’s first book at times reads like a work of fiction, and is all the richer for that. His account of the brutal 7,000-kilometre journey taken through a hostile landscape by him and Omar, an Afghan refugee, is punctuated with feelings of hope and despair. Can the travellers go on? Will they complete their journey?

Afghanistan has long been the source of one of the largest migrant flows in the world. When Aikins and Omar set out for Europe in 2015, there were over three million Afghan exiles in Pakistan and a similar number in Iran. Since the debacle of the NATO withdrawal last year, these numbers may have doubled. It is not until the final pages of The Naked Don’t Fear the Water that Aikins refers, albeit briefly, to the long-term background to this exodus – for the full history, Tariq Ali’s The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan, published late last year, is essential reading.

Aikins, a Canadian journalist, has been reporting on Afghanistan and the surrounding area since 2008. The book opens in 2015. Although not yet in control of Kabul, the Taliban have already captured some of the country’s important regional capitals. Omar, one of six children and Aikins’s friend, driver

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