Book Review: When the Moon is Low
For all the reading I do, I don’t leave enough book reviews in these moodlings. But When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi (ISBN 9780062369574) is a book that needs to be shared here. It’s written by an Afghan-American pediatrician who tells a fictional story of an Afghan family trying to find its way from a country being destroyed by the Taliban to freedom in England in the 1990s.
I suspect that author Nadia Hashimi has drawn from some of the life experiences of her extended family to tell the story of Fereiba, a young Afghani mother whose engineer husband, responsible for water facilities in their city, is taken away one night by the Taliban. Her son, Saleem, is only 14, and not yet considered manly enough (according to Taliban rule) to accompany his mother on errands around Kabul. Life becomes impossible for Fereiba and her three children. She sells everything and relies on human smugglers to get to Iran, as most of her family left earlier, when the trouble began in their hometown of Kabul.
Thanks to falsified Belgian passports on which much of their money is spent, Fereiba’s family makes it through Turkey to Greece, but it is there that Saleem tries to sell some of Fereiba’s jewelry to pay for the remaining part of the journey and is caught by immigration police who ship him back to Turkey. Because of her baby’s heart condition, Fereiba has no choice but to continue on with the little one and her daughter, hoping against hope that Saleem will somehow manage to make his way to England and rejoin his family.
Saleem’s journey as an unaccompanied minor among refugees, farm labourers, human traffickers and contraband smugglers is a harrowing one. It’s chilling to wonder how many kids are in the same boat, how many parents have been separated from their children, how many people have died while riding under trucks crossing borders, and related human costs. Nadia Hashimi has offered us, in our relatively peaceful and secure lives in North America, what is probably a fairly sanitized version of what many refugees must go through to reach better places than the war-ravaged countries they were forced to leave behind, and introduces us to compelling characters in Fereiba and Saleem. I would love to know people like them.
When the Moon is Low is worth a read simply to give fortunate North Americans an idea of the challenges faced by refugees and why we need to open our hearts and borders to those being displaced by human-made disasters and conflicts. I didn’t realize that, after Syrians, Afghans are still the most numerous people in refugee camps twenty years after their exodus began, and heaven knows there are many other people who need homes because they are unable to return to their own. The news tells us snippets of their stories from places like Lesbos in Greece and Lampedusa in Italy, but since many other European countries have closed their doors to refugees, the patience of the Greek and Italian people who receive so many is wearing thin and it seems the tide of feeling about rescuing people from the rickety boats crossing the Mediterranean might be shifting…
But we are one human family. Nadia Hashimi’s story of ordinary people — with hopes and dreams like our own — trying to survive extraordinary times is worth a read, if only to remind us of the needs of our sisters and brothers around the world. Everyone needs a home where they belong, and if the tables were turned, we would hope and pray for help just as they do. It’s incumbent on us to be their source of help and hope. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially if it moves us to get involved by giving what help we can…