The Naked Don’t Fear The Water

Matthieu Aikins

Published 15 February 2022 | French paperback with flaps, 384 pages
Winner of the 2022 Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia

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In 2016, a young Afghan driver and translator named Omar makes the heart-wrenching decision to flee his war-torn country, saying goodbye to Laila, the love of his life, without knowing when they might be reunited again. He is one of the millions of refugees who leave their homes that year. Matthieu Aikins, a journalist living in Kabul, decides to follow his friend and goes underground on the refugee trail. Their year-long odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brings them face to face with the people at heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women and children fleeing war in search of a better life. Harrowing yet hopeful, The Naked Don’t Fear the Water: An Underground Journey with Afghan Refugees is an exceptional debut that brings into sharp focus one of the most contentious issues of our times.

‘This is a book of radical empathy, crossing many borders – not just borders that separate nations, but also borders of form, borders of meaning, and borders of possibility. It is powerful and humane and deserves to find a wide, wandering readership.’
— Mohsin Hamid, author of Exit West

‘The most affecting book I have read about the iniquity of the refugee crisis since Exit West. The reporting is totally immersive, without ever losing its clarity, and gives a heartbreaking insight into the lives of normal people taking terrible risks to save themselves.’
— Sam Knight, author of The Premonitions Bureau

‘A riveting and heartrending look at the hidden world of refugees that challenged everything I thought I knew about the consequences of war and globalization. It’s the most important work on the global refugee crisis to date, and a crucial document of these tumultuous times. It will go down as one of the great works of nonfiction literature of our generation.’
— Anand Gopal, author of No Good Men Among the Living

‘This is a gripping, devastating book, and it must have taken great courage and determination to write. The best way to honour this book would be for us all to read it and ask ourselves what we can do for the thousands of unknown and unrecognized people who are treading this terrifying path.’
— Hari Kunzru, author of Red Pill

‘Matthieu Aikins is that rarest of combinations – an intrepid journalist who writes beautifully. The Naked Don’t Fear the Water is a compellingly original piece of work, an unforgettable narrative about one of the great human epics of our day.’
— Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad

‘Highly readable, empathetic and revealing, Aikins’s book is brutally honest and often deeply moving – a work of great sympathy and understanding.’
John Simpson, Observer

‘When he cups a child’s head while their boat flails through riotous waves, when he dances with new friends at an unlikely haven in Athens, when he shares a sandwich with a man who is more brother than friend, Aikins … experiences the kind of equality that politicians, advocates and religious leaders tout but rarely achieve…. This book is Aikins’s profound act of love — for Omar, for their travel companions and for the beleaguered people of Afghanistan, now irrevocably scattered around the world.’
Jessica Goudou, New York Times

‘This is a story in which hapless migrants find themselves at the mercy of greedy people-smugglers at every checkpoint, with no recourse but to pay them off with their life’s savings. But it is the state that is the greater predator, pitting refugees against one another, deporting them at will and ultimately trapping vulnerable people in a Kafkaesque loop of survival and incarceration.’
Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, The Guardian

‘The question of who has the right to travel across borders looms large in his courageous reporting. So do the dangers some people are obliged and willing to take along the smuggler’s route into Europe…. [A] devastatingly intimate insight into the refugee crisis.’
Rory Sullivan, The Economist

‘[A] startling, humane account of the “refugee underground.”’
New Yorker

‘For its dedication to documenting such desperate journeys, shining a light on conditions for migrants, The Naked Don’t Fear the Water is an incredible achievement.’
Laura Waddell, The Scotsman

‘[A] gripping story of international adventure and romance. Stylistically, it sits somewhere between Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and Daniel Trilling’s Lights in the Distance…. [A] nuanced and detailed account of the refugee crisis that reached its apotheosis during the Long Summer of Migration in 2015.’
— The Globe and Mail

‘[R]eading about the refugee trail at this depth – the perilous boat ride across the channel to the Greek islands, the squalid misery of the refugee camp on Lesbos – forges insight and empathy…. Because, finally, this is a story about a group of ordinary people trying to survive.’
Rachel Andrews, Irish Times

‘Journalist Aikins debuts with a powerful account of the “long and dangerous journey” many Afghans take out of their war-torn country.… The result is a heart-wrenching portrait of resilience and ingenuity under the most trying of circumstances.’
Publishers Weekly

‘The book shines a humane spotlight on many of the people the author met along the way as well as on the role chance played in their fates, with particularly moving chapters on life within the Greek refugee camp. The narrative is scrupulous and often suspenseful. Sharp insider insights into a global dilemma.’

‘Aikins offers a kaleidoscopic view of fragmented families and dispossessed people trying and failing and scheming and planning and hoping and praying to complete the next leg of their journey…. Unique, gripping, and beautifully written.’
Nick Turse, The Intercept

‘There is much to admire about this book, its first-hand perspective being the most obvious. When Aikins writes of the “sense of vertigo in handing yourself over to criminals” it’s because he himself has been in their clutches. This isn’t a reconstructed account, pasted together from secondhand sources; it is embedded journalism in the raw, a personal dispatch from behind the lines of Europe’s intractable migrant crisis.’
Oliver Balch, Spectator

The Naked Don’t Fear the Water is a work of great empathy and humanity: a must-read for anyone looking to understand our increasingly fractured age.’
Buzz Magazine

Matthieu Aikins has reported from Afghanistan and the Middle East since 2008. He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and has won numerous honors, including the George Polk and Livingston awards. He is a past fellow at Type Media Center, New America, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Academy in Berlin. Matthieu grew up in Nova Scotia, and has a master’s degree in Near Eastern Studies from New York University. The Naked Don’t Fear the Water is his first book.