HASHIMI’S AFGHAN DRAMA LEAVES ME STARRY EYED

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In light of the current Russian invasion (or according to Putin, military exercises) in Ukraine, the month’s last book review strikes a chord as it begins with the Russian supported military coup in Afghanistan during the Cold War. Long before the West had heard much about Afghanistan and the Taliban and 9/11, Kabul was a thriving cosmopolitan capital. American and Russia vied for its attention and its resources, offering the construction of dams, roads, and universities to sweeten their cause. In my lifetime, I can’t recall when Afghanistan was a tourist destination with its beautiful landscapes, rich history and situation on the silk road at the crossroads of central and south Asia. Since the 70’s the country is more associated with coups, wars, invasions and of course the hard line political and religious control of the Taliban. The book is of Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi and published by William Morrow

( http://www.harpercollins.com/collections/william-morrow ) on the 17th March.

The book is told through the eyes of Sitara Zamani, the daughter of a prominent family associated and living in close contact with the country’s president. When the two families are assassinated during the coup, only Sitara survives. She is smuggled from the scene by a soldier called Shair. 

Sitara is adopted by an American diplomate and is moved to America under another name. There, she finishes her education and eventually trains as a surgeon. Thirty years after the night of the coup, her world is rocked again when a patient presents himself for consultation. It is Shair. Seeing him awakens her desire for answers and perhaps revenge? She returns to Kabul, now a battleground between a corrupt government and the fundamentalist Taliban to learn the truth about her family.

I started this book quite late but managed to read it in a few days. It feels like an epic read but it is so interesting and well plotted I was eager to keep going. It covers the whole story of Sitara’s life, describing her childhood, the coup, her escape, and early life in America in some detail. It then jumps forward to the present period of her meeting with Shair and her search for the truth. The jump in period was necessary as otherwise the book would be a massive tome, but it was a little disconcerting, I had been so enjoying the trials and tribulations of Sitara’s escape and arrival in the states, I’d have quite happily read a couple of hundred pages more! This is because Nadia Hamini’s style of writing is so engaging. The characters are beautifully described. I think its very hard to write children and adolescents, believeably if you are also writing about adults too. 

I loved the descriptions of the places too, but it was the warmness and humanity of the majority of the Afghani people who populated this book, that make you wish things were different and you could freely visit their country. 

Nadia Hashimi (32Letter)

Mothers and their relationships with their daughters are also featured here. You could almost feel the motherly love and compassion in some of the passages. This was highlighted by the lack of maternal instinct in Sitara’s first home in the USA.  I particularly liked how the relationship between Antonia and Tilly was described. They sound like the kind of women I’d love to hang out with. 

This American author and Pediatrician Nadia Hashimi’s ( http://www.nadiahashimibooks.com ) fourth book, her others are all international bestsellers – The Pearl that Broke Its Shell (2014), When The Moon Is Low (2015) and A House Without Windows (2016). She’s also written two childrens books. In 2003, she made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents who had not returned to their homeland since leaving in the 1970s. She continues to serve on boards of organizations committed to educating and nurturing Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children and empowering the female leaders of tomorrow. She is a member of the US-Afghan Women’s Council and an advisor to Kallion, an organization that seeks to elevate leadership through humanities. Locally, she serves as a Montgomery County health care commissioner and organizing committee member of the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

As I say I rushed through this novel a little in my haste to make the blog tour post, but it will be a book I recommend to my bookclub and plan to read again slowly to savour. This would be an ideal Mother’s Day gift so get down to your local bookseller soon. 

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviwers thought, visit their blogs listed beliow. then, if you get a copy, come back and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

HOSSEINI GIVES US ANOTHER ILLUMINATING STORY FROM AFGHANISTAN

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sandy-gallFor the past thirty years of my life one country has regularly popped up in the news, from watching Sir Sandy Gall’s regular reports for ITN, dug in with the Mujahideen. Through the rise of despotic Taliban and Ross Kemps highly acclaimed TV series for Sky and even to this week with the bombing of the Pearl hotel in Peshawar. Afghanistan stands out like a proverbial bad penny, even in the past month I have read two books with an Afghan link or theme and even today I started another with a central connection to this troubled land.

The second of those books was Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. Coming on the back of it’s hugely successful predecessor “The Kite Runner”, it follows the lives of two women Mariam a girl ostracised with her mother Nana from her home town of Herat because she is a “Harami” illegitimate. Her father Jahlil is a successful local businessman, who visits them regularly and a_thousand_splendid_sunspromises Mariam he’ll take her to his cinema to fulfil her dreams of watching Pinocchio with her half brothers and sisters. One day she goes into Herat after Jahlil stands her up and when he won’t come to the door of his house she sleeps on the doorstep, on her return home next day she finds Nana has committed suicide, thinking Mariam deserted her. Jahlil takes her in but shortly after through the machinations of his two wives, the fifteen-year-old Mariam is hastily married off to Rasheed a forty five year old shoemaker from Kabul. In Kabul she endures Rasheed’s constant putdowns, criticisms and violent behaviour and is forced to wear a Burqa. Across the street Lailia is the youngest daughter of a college lecturer, her brothers are killed by the Mujahideen and the result sends her mother over the edge, she becomes the mainstay that holds the house together, while her close friendship with her best friend Tariq develops. When the Civil war reaches Kabul, she has to cope with the death of another close friend and the departure of Tariq with his parents and shortly afterwards her parents are killed when a rocket hits their house just as they are preparing to leave. Taken in and cared for Rasheed and Mariam, Lailia hides a secret, which she eventually uses to her own gain.

The book follows the two women’s struggle against the Taliban’s suffocating rules and the male dominated society. Some of the scenes are almost hilarious were it not the truth of what is actually going on. Together they discover that the hatred they initially had for each other will eventually bond them to over come the day-to-day challenges of the world inside and outside their home.

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Hosseini’s writing is very descriptive and has you almost tasting the heat and sand of this war torn country. He doesn’t skim over the story in simple English but has the prose pockmarked with the different dialects. The violence of the story is on a par with what we have come to accept from Afghanistan, but even so it is brutal and leaves you in no doubt that he has done more then just watch related news stories over years.

At a recent meeting of my book group it was suggested by one reader that the ending was a rather contrived one for Hollywood. To me I have to disagree, the ending is well rounded and helped dilute the melancholy feeling that had washed over me through the last part of the book. Despite that this is a great read that’ll stick with you longer then most summer airport purchases.

(Previously published in http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2009)