Monday, March 28, 2011

Male Monday: Shooting Kabul

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai 2010 (ARC version) Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Rating: 4/5

IQ "Relieved the elderly couple stood up from the bench. In the process Abay's scarf got caught in the rosebushes. Dada ]grandfather] grinned, revealing a strong set of white teeth. With gnarled hands stricken with arthritis he gently unhooked her scarf and broke off a large yellow bloom and handed it to her. Abay [grandmother] giggled like a young girl and took a sniff of the rose." pgs. 205-206

I chose the above line because I thought it was really sweet and very well described. I can see the image in my mind, and it makes me smile. Picture perfect :) Fadi and his family left Afghanistan for America. In the process, his six-year-old sister, Mariam is lost. Somehow (no one is quite sure what happens and so they all blame themselves) Mariam got lost in the melee caused by the Taliban trying to prevent the group of people Fadi's family was with from being smuggled out of the country. Fadi and his family arrive shortly before September 11th and they notice how much things change after 9/11, specifically for anyone with brown skin. It's also harder to find Mariam. Fadi's art teacher informs him about a photography competition, the grand prize is a trip to India. Fadi loves taking pictures, but India is next to Pakistan and he's hoping to locate Mariam at a refugee camp on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A long shot to be sure, but it might be his only chance to bring Mariam home.

I was surprisingly displeased with the ending. I could tell it was coming as the amount of pages got shorter but I kept thinking, no it can't be! The ending felt rushed and I wasn't a fan of the epilogue. Ugh. I was really looking forward to the ending because of course I wanted everything to turn out happily but it was too convenient and too sudden. I also felt at times that there was no plot, which works for some books, but not so much for this particular book. Part of it might also be that I'm starting to lose patience with stories about assimilation, and this book spends a lot of time on that topic. Which is understandable but I was more concerned about Mariam and the bullying/violence as a result of 9/11.

I loved how the author explained the Afghanistan situation in such a concise way. I've never paid much attention to the situation in Afghanistan, I know the basics (i.e. we're fighting to keep the Taliban from taking over again) but I feel much more interested in not only the history of Afghanistan, but also what is currently going on over there. I think that today Americans (and Westerners in general) dismiss the Taliban as extremists, without realizing (I say this as someone who thought the former) that the Taliban did a lot of good at first. They brought peace to a country that was warring internally and that is why they had a lot of Aghan support, especially amongst the Pukhtuns (largest ethnic group in Afghanistan). I learned all that and much more from this book. The emotional scenes are very well-written. I don't think it's possible for someone to read the scene where Mariam is left behind without feeling as though your heart is breaking. Especially since Fadi blames himself and ok, I sort of blamed him too BUT only for about 5 minutes. Really he couldn't have done anything. The cover image is a great visual of what the scene must have been like and the writing really puts a human face on the terror the Taliban inflicted in the hearts of the Afghan people.

Shooting Kabul is noteworthy, to me, because the information about relatively current events in Afghanistan (a country we learn very little about in school) is presented in such an accessible way. Even if you don't like politics and/or following current events, how can you not be interested in other cultures? This book gives a great introduction to the various tribes in Afghanistan and how the Taliban came to power. I also really liked how this book was quite technical in talking about photography, it wasn't vague 'Fadi took pictures in black and white' instead it described how to set up a darkroom and what goes on in there and what exactly it takes to set up shots in different lighting settings. I enjoyed the information immensely since I know very little about photography. While the book seemed to lose its focus around the middle and the end came about too quickly, the story is stirring with a delightful cast of characters. From twelve year old Fadi to his older sister Noor, to his parents and his extended family, each character is described in great detail. The parents are active, in fact the storyline with Fadi's parents was both sad and engrossing (his father feels he has lost his honor by losing Mariam, Fadi's mother becomes depressed). Also while the ending came about quickly, the result of the photo competition was quite a surprise. *SPOILER* highlight to read: I thought he would at least place in the top 4. But to only get an honorable mention? That was cold on the author's part. And a very good twist ;) *End of spoiler*

Disclosure: Received from Lyn. Thank you!