Born Under A Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield
Published in 2009 by Black Swan
My copy: Secondhand paperback
The Taliban have disappeared from Kabul’s streets, but the long shadows of their brutal regime remain. In his short life eleven-year-old Fawad has known more grief than most: his father and brother have been killed, his sister has been abducted, and Fawad and his mother, Mariya, must rely on the charity of family to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence.
Then Mariya finds a position as housekeeper for a charismatic western woman, Georgie, and Fawad dares to hope for an end to their struggle. He soon discovers that his beloved Georgie is caught up in a dangerous love affair with the powerful Afghan warlord Haji Khan.
But even a man as influential as Haji Khan can’t protect Fawad from the next tragedy to blight his young life, a tragedy so devastating that it threatens to destroy the one thing Fawad thought he could never lose: his love for his country.
Reading the blurb, I expected this to be a hard, taxing read but actually it is really easy to get through thanks to the voice of our narrator, 11-year-old Fawad. The style of writing is simple, but this really adds to the story as it’s in contrast to the complex events happening in the novel, and we see what is going on through his young and often naïve eyes. What also worked really well is that despite the dark, depressing aspects of this novel, it’s actually really funny as Fawad talks to us in such a humorous way. It worked really well for me and actually made this book a joy to read at times, as Fawad’s naivety is really endearing, as is his sense of mischief and adventure. He is just a typical young boy growing up in incredibly difficult surroundings. The other characters in the book also make the novel come alive – I loved the blind shopkeeper and Fawad’s foul-mouthed cousin.
It is interesting to read a book set in Afghanistan, narrated by a young Muslim boy during the time of the Taliban, written by a western woman. I have read reviews in the past where readers have objected to authors writing from the points of view of characters from a different race or ethnicity – but this for me isn’t an issue. It is literature after all and it is the author’s job to put themselves in someone else’s shoes – so why can’t that someone be a different colour or religion?
On the downside, I did sometimes wonder about the credibility of some aspects of the storyline – would a widowed Muslim woman really be happy to work for a group of brash, boozy Americans? And as the book progressed, although I continued to love Fawad’s voice, I did find that the novel lacked a good plot! The relationship between Georgia and warlord Haji Khan just didn’t really interest me, and again never felt entirely believable.
This book won me over with its funny, heartwarming characters but ultimately lost me with the lack of a really meaty storyline. There were too many subplots, and the romances between several characters made the story seem a bit silly at times. The focus could have been more on Fawad, and I probably could have done without the Western characters altogether.