I didn’t want to write Shooting Kabul, really, I didn’t. I resisted it for many years. Why? Because it deals with many sensitive and personal issues—9-11, the war on terror, Islam, Afghan culture and politics, coupled with my husband’s family history and escape from Kabul, Afghanistan. But no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, the story kept niggling the back of my mind. So finally, I was compelled to tell it. After much thought I decided to write a fictionalized account of my husband’s story while explaining the complexities and nuances of Afghan culture and politics in a way that could be understood by young and old alike.
My protagonist, Fadi, flees Kabul with his family and as they are escaping, his six-year-old sister, Mariam, is left behind. After Fadi ends up a refugee in Fremont, California, finding her becomes his mission in life. Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11th unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in a war-torn Afghanistan seem slim. Desperate, Fadi tries every harebrained scheme he can think of. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister.
My husband’s father was a professor at Kabul University in the late 1970s. Like Fadi’s father, he too received a PhD in agriculture from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and supplanted a communist puppet government, intellectuals like him were forced to make a decision: join the regime, go to prison and be tortured, or flee the country. Like my husband’s father, Fadi’s father was forced to make a similar decision. Although their escapes occurred at different times and took different routes, both embarked on a perilous journey that brought them to the United States.
For thousands of years, Afghanistan has been a battleground for outsiders. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan came with their armies, as did the British and the Soviets. All attempted to conquer and occupy, yet failed. There are lessons to be learned as the United States currently contemplates its role in this war-torn country. It is a land still ravaged by war and ethnic tensions between various groups—Pukhtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and others. Despite these facts, Afghans remain a strong and proud people.
Shooting Kabul ends on a hopeful note with the election of President Karzai. By the end of 2001, the Taliban had been forced to the fringes of the country and a new hope had reawakened in the country. Unfortunately, nearly a decade later, the Taliban have surged again. The government in Kabul today, under Karzai, with U.S. backing, continues to emphasize a central government in Kabul while neglecting the rest of the country. This does not bode well for Afghans who want nothing more than the basic necessities—clean water, employment, education and security. It saddens me that Afghanistan is yet again at a crossroads, with its people caught at the center of indecision and conflict. They are a people with a resilient and long history, desiring peace for their children and respect from the outside world. But I, like others, still have hope—hope that peace, security and prosperity will come . . . sooner rather than later.
Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Fadi's family flees from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Fremont, California, in 2001. His six-year-old sister, Mariam, is left behind during their escape, for which Fadi wrongly feels responsible. He enters a photography contest to win a plane ticket to Peshawar so he can try to track down Mariam. The story is timely, but coincidences in the plot lessen its believability. Reading list, websites. Glos. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2010 May #1
As 11-year-old Fadi Nurzai and his family escape from Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, the Taliban show up, forcing their truck driver to take off abruptly, and Fadi's little sister Mariam is accidentally left behind. Mother, father, older sister Noor and Fadi all blame themselves as they make their way to California. Fadi's goal becomes finding a way to go back and rescue Mariam, and he sees a chance in a local photography contest, one prize being a trip to India. Debut novelist Senzai crafts a wrenching tale, based on her husband's Soviet-era experience, putting a human face on the war in Afghanistan. Though the blending of fiction and exposition is uneasy at times, and the resolution too quick and reliant on coincidence, it's an ambitious story with much to offer: a likable protagonist in Fadi, an original and engaging plot and a lens through which readers will learn much about the current conflict. A great match with Suzanne Fisher Staples's Under the Persimmon Tree (2005) and Deborah Ellis's Breadwinner Trilogy. (map, author's note, further reading, websites) (Fiction. 9-14) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 October
Fadi and his family flee their home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and make a new home in California. But the family is not complete: Fadi let go of his six-year-old sister Mariam?s hand and she disappeared into the melee of people scrambling for the escape truck in the war-torn city. Fadi excels in photography, and determined to win a photography contest with a top prize of a trip to India (which, Fadi reasons, is very close to the refugee camps in Pakistan), the boy learns to see beyond outward appearances; meanwhile, classmates learn to overcome prejudices. The story?s conclusion is incredibly serendipitous: while Fadi does not win the contest, he meets one of the judges, who had been in Pakistan taking pictures in the camps?including one of a little girl, Mariam. It?s a satisfying, if less than believable, ending. Glimpses into Afghan-American life are sprinkled throughout the novel. Shooting Kabul is a worthy addition to multicultural middle school fiction. Recommended. Catherine M. Andronik, School Librarian, Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk, Connecticut ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews
This hard-hitting, emotionally nuanced first novel views the experiences of a family of Afghan refugees through the lens of 11-year-old Fadi. Fadi's U.S. educated parents repatriated to Afghanistan, only to have the Taliban impose order, ending his mother's career, necessitating homeschooling for the children, and creating a dangerous, oppressive environment. When his mother's health finally forces the family to leave, Senzai portrays the high cost of escape as not just economic (,000, "the family's entire savings") but human, through the shattering loss of Fadi's six-year-old sister, who hesitates to grab a precious Barbie and is left behind. "Fadi looked from the edge of truck's railing in disbelief. His six-year-old sister had been lost because of him." Senzai skillfully focuses Fadi's guilt against the backdrop of this grief and his adjustments to life in Fremont, California's Little Kabul (during 9/11); as Fadi discovers a photography club and contest that might earn him tickets to India, he fantasizes about rescuing his sister. Though cultural, religious, and political pressures persist, the satisfying surprise ending offers the family hope and redemption. Ages 8-12. (June)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 5-8--In July 2001, as 11-year-old Fadi and his family hastily board a truck to begin their escape from Afghanistan, six-year-old Mariam lets go of her brother's hand and is tragically left behind. Their arrival in San Francisco is bittersweet as they are all too concerned about Mariam to appreciate their newfound safety and freedom. Fadi struggles with integrating himself into American middle school culture, eventually finding solace in the photography club. Still, he is most concerned with the part he played in losing Mariam and getting her back. A photography contest with the prize of a trip to India seems to be his best means of finding a way back to Afghanistan to help in the search for his sister. This is a sweet story of family unity, and readers will learn about Afghani Pukhtun culture. Occasionally Senzai relies too heavily on telling when showing would be more effective. Also, at times the dialogue seems inauthentic because it contains more historical detail than would be likely among people of the same background. The relevance of occasional references to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (S & S, 1970), which Fadi is reading, is never truly clear. That said, this is a worthwhile book about the immigrant experience in general, and Afghani culture specifically. Fadi is a likable hero who learns from his mistakes, and whose talent allows him to make a unique contribution to finding his sister, for the inevitable happy ending.--Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH[Page 120]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.