I am often very kind in my assessment of particular books because of their purpose. Such is the case with Shooting Kabul by newcomer to writing, N. H. Senzai, who grew up in San Francisco and Saudi Arabia. She tells the reader it is a story that had to be told, one that continued to niggle at the back of her head until she got it out.
Shooting Kabul is loosely based on her husband as a child and his family leaving Afghanistan because of the Taliban. It involves degrees in agriculture earned in the United States and a return to Afghanistan to improve farming techniques. After the Taliban's return to primitivism and total control of government and culture, the family's efforts (and efforts of many other families) were no longer wanted. It became unsafe to stay, thus a dark-of-night escape to asylum in the United States.
But that's not why I gave this book five stars. The writing, plotting, characters, plot conflicts--all would rate four stars. Ends are too conveniently tied and plot events are manipulated. But guess what? I don't care. Here's why Shooting Kabul is a five-star book for children 9-12 and any older audience who wants to know more about Afghan culture.
1. The novel provides an up-close look at a typical Afghan family, actually, a Pukhtun family. The Pukhtuns make up the largest ethnic group of the Afghan peoples, comprising 42 percent of the population. The reader learns a little about religion, language, food, daily habits, family life. A "little" means just enough to weave into the story without overdoing it. The glossary of unfamiliar names and Afghan factos is included in the back of the book, as well as a further reading list.
(Extra Credit is one of the recommended books, a book I recently reviewed.)
2. The plot is timed during the Sept. 11 attack on American soil, thus "forcing" American attacks on the Muslim people in American and how they dealt with those attacks.
3. Friendships that cross racial and religious lines. Both Fadi, the main character, and his older sister, form relationships with others: Fadi with a Chinese-American classmate and his sister with an Anglo.
4. Good family relations. Children cannot possibly get enough examples of good family relationships in life or books.
5. A photography component. Fadi's father Habib taught him how to photograph while they were in Afghanistan and gave him his old Minolta camera. In San Francisco Fadi joins the photography club in his middle school and enters a competition with one of his photographs. Seeing photography as an art form being promoted is a real boon for this book.
The most serious problem in the novel is the loss of the youngest child, Miriam, while the family is leaving by dark-of-night. During the mad rush to climb into the escape truck, Miriam is left behind. A six-year-old girl. There was no turning back with the Taliban hot on their trail. One of the prizes of the photography contest is a trip with a let's-call-it-National-Geographic photographer to one of three countries for a photography shoot (with a parent, of course). One of the countries is India. Fadi believes he can win that trip and find his sister.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would like to see it in the hands of good teachers. librarians, home-schoolers, and parents to begin a dialogue to improve American-Muslim relations.
Shooting Kabul? A photography term, of course, to tie all components together. Fadi and his dad "shot" many photographs of their city in Afghanistan, starting his love of photography and the twist it plays in the story.
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski