** spoiler alert **
Set at the start of the 2001 war in Afghanistan Nusrat, an American-Muslim teacher in Pakistan is waiting for word of her husband Faiz, a doctor who is working in refugee clinics in Afghanistan. Hundreds of miles away a poor Afghani girl named Najmah, has lost her brother and father to Taliban conscription gangs. Left alone to take care of her pregnant mother Najmah attempts to protect her father’s land and flocks from the greedy eyes of her Uncle, a Taliban sympathizer. After American bombs destroy Najmah’s village and kill her mother, Najmah is found by a neighbor’s brother and his family and smuggled across the border into Pakistan, there Najmah and Nusrat’s paths intersect after the refugee director enrolls Najmah in Nusrats school.
Nusrat and Najmah’s voices are achingly clear and beautifully crafted. Staples’ description and prose bring these two vastly different characters to light and create a wonderful opportunity for the reader see from the perspectives of characters which have remained un-seen from the news reels. I was impressed by the depth of understanding Staple displayed when she wrote about Muslim identity and the fierce pride that is inherent to the tribal people of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and the Pashtun people of both Afghanistan & Pakistan.