Late last year, I read The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi. At the time, I wrote about how reading it had me burst into tears and wanting to do something to make even a tiny bit of difference in the lives of women like the ones in the story.
I just finished reading Hashimi’s When the Moon is Low and felt similar things.
When the Moon is Low is the story of Fereiba Waziri. When Fereiba is born, her mother dies. Her father remarries and once the new wife begins having her own babies (four girls), Fereiba becomes little more than a servant. She is kept out of school year after year to help her stepmother run the house and look after the girls. Eventually, she convinces her father that she needs to go to school, that the only way she will ever have any kind of life is if she learns.
So she goes to school, works hard and excels. Eventually, with the help of her husband and mother-in-law, she becomes a teacher. She and her husband, Mahmoud, fall in love, against all odds of an arranged marriage, and Fereiba is able to put her old life, where she felt unwanted and unloved, behind her. Eventually she has children, a son, then a daughter. When she becomes pregnant with their third child, Kabul is a very different place than it was when she arrived as a bride. The Taliban is in power and women are no longer allowed to leave the house uncovered, without a male chaperone. Fereiba and her husband make plans to leave Afghanistan, to make their way to London where they have family.
Before they can leave, the Taliban show up at the door and take Mahmoud away for questioning. He never returns. Fereiba, heavily pregnant, with two other children completely dependent on her, has to make a decision about whether or not to go ahead with the plans they had made.
Fereiba and her three children decide to leave, to make their way to London and hopefully a better life.
Along the way, Fereiba’s oldest son gets separated from the rest of the family.
I KNOW. This book!
The first third of the book is Fereiba’s story – her childhood, the loss of a mother she never knew and the hole it left in her life, fighting for her education, the way Afghanistan changed in that time. After that, her son, Saleem, takes over. While Fereiba has told us the story of how they got to this point, Saleem is charged with telling us how it all turns out.
For me, this solved one of the big issues that I had with The Pearl That Broke Its Shell – the back and forth storytelling, alternating every chapter. I felt like I was able to spend the time with Fereiba that I needed in order to be invested in the story.
Again, the issue of education for women was a big theme from the beginning but as the story moves forward, that takes a backseat to the issue of immigration and refugees. Fereiba and her family have to work so hard, pay so much money, sacrifice so much in order to be able to live the kind of life that we all have a right to. The story takes place in the late 1990s but so much of what happened in the book is happening right now and it was difficult to read sometimes. Saleem is barely 16 and he takes on so much for his family, he goes through so much, treated like a non-human, reviled by the people he’s hoping to get help from.
It took me a while (for me) to move onto another book. Part of that was that I didn’t get all the resolution I hoped for from this book. And the rest was that this was such an affecting, powerful story that I didn’t quite know what to do, where to go, what to read when I was done.
Days later, I’m still thinking about it. And about the millions of people that are currently trying to make their way to a better life, willing to sacrifice just about everything. I’m thinking about Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s quote about people and capital, talking about the world she wants for her daughter:
I want her to live in a world where borders are not as policed as they are. It’s very easy to move capital, but very difficult to move labour and people. I want that to change.