Born Under a Million Shadows – Andrea Busfield
March 18, 2010 § 8 Comments
My name is Fawad and my mother tells me I was born under the shadow of the Taliban.
In this story set in Afghanistan during the volatile times of Taliban rule, Andrea Busfield tells us about Fawad, a young boy about 10 or 11, as he slowly discovers what it’s really like to live in a country torn by war. Born Under a Million Shadows explores Afghanistan as it is, the good parts and the bad parts, and weaves in a story that attempts to give reality to the lives of many Afghan children.
In the beginning, Fawad and his mother Mariya live with a relative after having been forced out of their old home. His sister was taken away by the Taliban when that happened, his brother killed.
My father was killed, my brothers are dead and my sister is missing. But in Afghanistan, that’s a big ‘so what’.
Later, Mariya manages to find herself a more desirable job with a Western woman, Georgie, and from then on, it seems that Fawad and his mother finally get to live a more peaceful and assured life. But things don’t always go smoothly, cultures don’t always seamlessly mix together. In a house with 3 westerners, one of them a lesbian, and another a drinking man, what goes through Fawad’s mind?
The story is narrated to us by Fawad, and because Fawad is supposed to be a 10 or 11-year-old boy living in troubled times, I made allowances for some parts of the narrative that I found a little unsettling. But the character did still feel a unconvincing somehow. There were times when the character did come alive for me, and once or twice I found myself genuinely touched by him and his relationship with his friends.
But there was something lacking in Fawad. I’m not sure if it’s lost innocence (which is something that’s sort of bound to happen to children who grow up knowing death and war), or if it’s just the inconsistency of his narrative. It was just difficult to understand his point of view, to really be pulled into his thoughts.
There is one part of the blurb on the back cover of the book that really drew me into reading the story:
… But even the powerful Haji Khan can’t protect Fawad from the next tragedy to blight his young life, a tragedy so devastating that it treatens to destroy the one thing that he thought he could never lose: his love for his country.
The tragedy was indeed devastating, and it was one of the few times that I truly felt like I understood Fawad’s emotions. But I never got the part where his love for his country was shaken. It wasn’t deep enough, it didn’t cut me. I wanted it to cut me, I wanted to hurt. It just never happened.
Still, the story is a readable one, and there were good bits in it scattered around. Just not the book I had expected it to be.