Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives.
Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon.
New York, 2008: Thirty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
…grief is nothing but the far brink of love. Love is the sun, grief is the shadow it casts. Love is an opera, grief is its echo. You cannot have one without the other.
This is one library book I’m going to have to buy and give a permanent place to on my bookshelf. This was such a heartbreakingly beautiful and ultimately redemptive story about grief and the aftermath of violence and trauma.
This is the first book I have read by this author and I picked it up as an ebook from my local library on a whim. The cover is beautiful and I was intrigued to hear about Afghan history. Told from Sitara’s point of view as a girl during the coup of 1978 and as a grown woman in 2008, we are shown the event that acted as a tipping point for the years of constant conflict in Afghanistan.
Sitara was 10 years old when she witnessed the attack on the presidential palace and the murder of her entire family. Smuggled to safety, adopted and raised by the former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sitara leaves her old life, her Kabul, and her name behind, taking her deceased sister’s name to gain American citizenship.
Allah does not deliver your fate fully formed, my father had said. It is up to you to shape it. But fate doesn’t bend easily. Think of a blacksmith bending a rod. He cannot, without daring to hold the rod to fire.
The author did such a wonderful job of portraying Aryana’s various struggles: forgiving herself and those who wronged her, coping with severe trauma and PTSD, suffering survivor’s guilt, and ultimately being stripped of everything she’s ever known in order to survive, and whether she wants to survive or not. It is as she works through these things on her own and with the help of her adoptive mom and her friend, Clay, that she begins to fully reconcile 10 year-old Sitara with grown Aryana, after many years of being unsure if the future was even really something she wanted or deserved.
Keep biting your tongue and one day you won’t have one.
The writing in this novel is incredibly beautiful. I had so many highlighted passages in this ebook. Prosaic writing, clever turns of phrase, and bits of wisdoms sprinkled throughout, this book is full of hidden gems. But even without that, Sitara’s story shines, dare I say, like the stars. Strongly influenced by the poet Rumi for symbolism, this book highlights grief and trauma, and the processing of those things.
I loved the characters. Sitara/Aryana, obviously, but also Nia and Tilly as well. Nia possessed an iron will and a strong sense of morality. When Nia decided to do something, she was meticulous and thoughtful, planning the best course of action. Conversely, Tilly was more of a free-spirited hippie, but no less decisive or loving.
Aryana’s journey of closure and forgiveness was so beautiful and just felt so true. She makes mistakes and acts rashly but her heart is always in the right place. The descriptions of Kabul, both past and present, were so wonderfully detailed, I felt like I was there. It makes it that much more poignant to understand what was lost that night in April of 1978 and what things could have been like today if it hadn’t happened.
I feel like I’m learning so much about the Cold War by some of my latest reads. So many countries paid the price of the pissing contest between America and the Soviet Union, and I find it extremely telling that I never realized our country’s part in these places until reading these books. How many others are there? Next Year in Havana about Cuba, The Mountains Sing about Viet Nam, and now this novel about Afghanistan all share a similar history. It just goes to show how much the history books leave out in school.
I’ve already recommended this to several people since finishing it, and if you enjoy historical fiction, particularly if you are American, I encourage you to pick this book up. Challenge what you’ve been told, ask questions and dig for answers. Hashimi kindly listed links for some of her research for this book on her Pinterest account as well as recommends the book Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which I’ve added to my TBR.
5 out of 5 stars, I highly recommend this book. If you read it, let me know what you thought!
Until next time, happy reading!
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