Based on the author’s husband’s experience fleeing war-torn Afghanistan, Shooting Kabul tells the story of young Fadi as his family escapes from the Taliban’s rule in the year 2001. Fadi’s father plans and pays big money for their escape in the middle of the night, only to lose Fadi’s six-year-old sister Mariam along the way. Arriving to their new life in Fremont, California, the family is nothing short of devastated as they continue on with school and finding jobs, all while waiting to hear the good news that their sister and daughter have been found.
Fadi spends the entire novel struggling with the fact that he must blame himself for the loss of his sister. During their escape, he refused to put Mariam’s doll in his bag, which slowed them down and distracted her from the task at hand. Coming from a Pukhtun family (of which the author provides much explanation), Fadi and his father are hit the hardest with guilt and shame for not being able to take care of their family. While Fadi begins life as an American middle schooler, he wrestles with plans and ideas to return to Pakistan and find his sister, only to stumble upon a photography contest that might be his ticket to rescuing her.
Debut author N.H. Senzai is brilliant in her descriptions of her characters and scenes throughout the novel. The character of Fadi starts out so foreign, hard to understand and distant. However, throughout the novel, he becomes more dynamic and an easy character to relate to, which, given the context of the story, is key to the success of this novel and the lessons to be learned from it. Fadi and his family experience much pain in their transition from war torn Afghanistan to segregated yet familiar Fremont, and the way their story is told allows the reader to understand their emotions and decisions without feeling bogged down with the weight of their sorrow. The setting is seemingly perfect, being that Fremont has (or possibly had) the largest Afghan population in the United States, yet it and the nearby San Francisco are seemingly diverse in ethnicity as a whole.
My hope is that Shooting Kabul will pave the way for more children’s novels about the war in Afghanistan, the struggle with one’s ethnicity, as well as the strong ties that bring us together as families.
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books