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If You Enjoy Exploring Other Cultures, Born Under a Million Shadows Is a Must-Read

May 13, 2010

Born Under a Million Shadows by Andrea Busfield
Published by Holt Paperbacks February 2, 2010

My name is Fawad, and my mother tells me I was born under the shadow of the Taliban. Because she said no more, I imagined her stepping out of the sunshine and into the dark, crouching in a corner to protect the stomach that was hiding me, while a man with a stick watched over us, ready to beat me into the world.

In 21st century Afghanistan, war has shaped much of life for several generations. After the Afghans were finally liberated from Russian occupation in 1989, the power vacuum was filled by rival warlords, and the country was consumed by civil war. Then the rise of the Taliban finally brought peace, but at a terrible price.

Fawad, the perceptive, funny eleven-year-old narrator ofย  Born Under a Million Shadows, sees the Taliban fall in 2001. Fawad and his mother have lost most of their family and rely on the charity of relatives. His father and brother were killed, and his sister was abducted by Taliban forces and never seen again. Along with his friends and cousins, Fawad tries to earn or beg for money, on the streets of Kabul, to help them survive.

Then Fawad’s mother, Mariya, finds a housekeeping position with a group of foreigners. They go to live with her employers, including Georgie, a British aid worker, and May, an engineer from America, who are helping with the gradual process of rebuilding Afghanistan. Their household also includes, James, a British journalist. The lifestyles and values of their housemates are very different from the strict Muslim way Fawad and his mother have always lived. James is in inveterate drinker and fancies himself a bit of a ladies’ man. May is a lesbian, and Georgie is involved with the powerful Afghan warlord Haji Khan, a dangerous man who may be involved in the opiate trade. Despite their differences, bonds of affection quickly grow, and Fawad, Mariya, and their English-speaking housemates form a colorful, unusual sort of family.

British journalist Andrea Busfield has lived and worked in Afghanistan, and her passion for this beautiful, war-torn country illuminates Born Under a Million Shadows. She vividly paints the streets of Kabul and the mountainous countryside, and reading this novel, I absorbed some of her love and understanding of the Afghan culture.

While this book deals with grim subjects, it is not a sad book. It doesn’t shy away from the suffering woven throughout the story, but it doesn’t sink into despair, either. Death and violence are part of daily life in Kabul, so people just carry on, striving to survive, looking out for friends and relatives, offering hospitality to guests, celebrating holidays, and falling in love. What really stands out in this book — aside from the strong sense of time and place — is the vibrant cast of characters, the connections among them, and the humor that flows throughout the story. I think this book will appeal to a wide range of fiction lovers, particularly those who enjoy delving into other places and cultures.

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher with no expectation other than that I read it and offer an honest review.

Read Another Review: Misfit Salon

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2010 10:50 am

    This sounds great! I’ve heard some really good things about this book.
    Lately I have had this urge to read more Historical and Cultural fiction, and also much more poetry. I need some variety, I’m thinking. This one is definately going on the list. :]

    • May 14, 2010 10:32 pm

      Robby, I would like to be reading more historical/cultural fiction too, and I should definitely read more poetry. Prose is much more in my comfort zone, but when I push myself to read some poetry — or if an awesome fellow blogger posts some of his poetry ๐Ÿ˜‰ — I love it.

      • May 15, 2010 2:32 am

        I know I know! I’m still writing, I’m just much more secretive about the things I have been working on. Maybe I’ll start posting again, possibly on my Tumblr. I’ll be sure to link them on the Blogger! You’re planting a seed in my mind. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. May 14, 2010 12:07 pm

    This sounds like a fascinating read. I love reading about Middle Eastern cultures.

  3. May 14, 2010 12:13 pm

    Sounds really interesting, I’ll have to add it to the wish list.

  4. May 14, 2010 6:12 pm

    This book sounds so good! Thank you for the review

  5. May 14, 2010 9:27 pm

    I’m really interested in this one. Our son has just returned from peacekeeping in Afghanistan and he fell in love with both the people and the country.

    Lovely review, thankyou. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • May 14, 2010 10:35 pm

      That is fascinating, Cat. Is your son in the military? Maybe sometime he’d be willing to let you talk about his experiences on your blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. May 14, 2010 11:28 pm

    this definitely sounds like something i would enjoy. thank you for the lovely review!

  7. May 16, 2010 11:18 pm

    This book sounds beautiful! Yours is the first review I read and I’m glad it is a must-read!

  8. May 18, 2010 12:04 am

    There is something so appealing about child narrators in stories for me. I guess it is because they are so blatantly honest, yet charming. This sounds like a not only a great read, but an educational one. Thanks for the review, will have to find it for myself!

  9. May 18, 2010 2:27 am

    Thanks for linking to my review!

    I was completely captivated with Fawad’s character and his friends as well. Despite his prejudices, I still found him charming. I felt that I got a true sense of the Afgan people while reading this book.

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