Selim's first view of Europe is a vast, thick carpet of digested pasta. Swimming through sewage towards traffickers on the Italian shore, he parts Europe's soft defences with his bony chest before collapsing on the sand. Waiting for him is a truck, officially loaded with crates of tomatoes: the sunny taste of Italy. Unofficially, secretly, illegally, the truck is loaded with Selim and his fellow refugees: the sunny taste of Kurdistan.
Selim is unloaded in Germany, where this plucky, unlikely hero must plead his case for a bright new life in Europe, and political asylum. Examined by dentists and doctors, he's declared to be about thirteen and is assigned a date of birth. Selim can't understand how they know his birthday. He doesn't know his birthday, his motherdoesn't know his birthday. He knows he was there, but hardly in a record-keeping role. He knows it was sometime between the new roof, the new goat and Cevim's wedding… Anyway, a date is entered on his forms and the clock starts ticking. He has until his eighteenth 'birthday' to find a way to get his permanent residency status, or face deportation and imprisonment, torture or death back in Turkey.
Fifteen years later, in a town hall in Paris, a Registrar receives both an unsettling visitor in her office, and an unsettling book in the post. The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages only fuels her suspicions surrounding an impending Kurdish wedding. Unsure how to intervene, her focus keeps drifting to one person alone: a plucky boy turned observer, who watched life from the shadows like a man on the run: Selim.
Sophie Hardach is the author of two novels, The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages, about Kurdish refugees, and Of Love and Other Wars, about pacifists during World War Two. Also a journalist, she worked as a correspondent for Reuters news agency in Tokyo, Paris and Milan and has written for a number of publications including the Atlantic, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.