Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Book Review: Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Zulaikha hopes.
She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven out of Afghanistan. She hopes for a better relationship with her hard stepmother. And she hopes one day even to go to school.
Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the poetry she once taught her mother. And the Americans come to the village, promising not just new opportunities, but surgery to mend Zulaikha's face. But can Zulaikha dare to hope they will come true?


Words in the Dust ~ a tall tales & short stories review

I must admit I started reading Words in the Dust with some trepidation, mainly because I knew it was written by a former male US soldier who had served in Afghanistan and I wondered how he would approach the story; not just how well he would succeed in telling the story from a young girl's perspective but just how much of his attitude to Afghanistan and its people would be coloured by Western values and beliefs.

I turned the pages warily, but the more I read the more my doubts and concerns were allayed.  At it's heart this is a tender and empathetic story of one young girl's struggle to be accepted for who she is and not what she looks like. A theme that can resonate with anyone no matter what their ethnicity, background or beliefs.

I think author, Trent Reedy's, attention to detail and research shine through and I did get a tangible sense of Zulaikha's family, community and customs.  I was also relieved to see that the Americans weren't depicted as some kind of all-conquering saviours.  They make mistakes; they aren't perfect, they are as flawed and human as everyone else.  Because one thing I think is important is that this book helps people understand that in Afghanistan there are just normal people trying to lead normal lives.  It can be hard sometimes to see past the news headlines but I think Trent Reedy succeeds in showing that a distinction can and must be made between the Taliban and everyday Afghan citizens.

Several important issues are raised concerning domestic abuse and the lack of education for women, but issues such as these are tackled with sensitivity. The author doesn't make a judgement and that decision feels like it's being left up to the reader to condone or condemn.  There is little black and white in this story but many shades of grey, some of the good guys, both Afghani and American, do bad things; and some cultural realities may not sit well when seen through Western eyes but to learn about them is to understand them, whether you agree or disagree.

For his debut novel, I think Trent Reedy should be commended for being brave enough to tackle such a sensitive subject.  Although I think some scenes, although not graphic, may be disturbing for younger readers, I think this is an intelligent, thought-provoking book that offers an intriguing insight into the day-to-day lives of an ordinary Afghan family and one young girl trying to find her place in the world.

Trent Reedy featured in tall tales & short stories Diversity Matters series.  
Follow the link to read the post -

DIVERSITY MATTERS: TRENT REEDY on “insider/outsider” narratives and the young Afghan girl who inspired Words in the Dust.


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