When the Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi
Told in two distinct narratives by a mother and her eldest son, When the Moon Is Low follows an Afghan family’s desperate journey through Turkey, Greece, Italy, and beyond, in search of safety and peace. [If you choose to go aural, Sneha Mathan (again, as always) is an ideal choice; not so much her male counterpart Neil Shah whose voice is far too old for the teenager he is supposed to portray.]
Fereiba, at novel’s opening, is a girl marked by death. Her birth took her mother’s life, and her first betrothed won’t survive to become her husband. Who she eventually marries is beyond her control, but she will find in her arranged union that she has met her hamsar – a soulmate “of the same mind.”
Happiness disappears when the Taliban arrive in Kabul, destroying too many lives. For the sake of her three young children’s future, Fereiba abandons all that is familiar and escapes her homeland. Prompted by a misguided moment of stubborn independence, Fereiba’s son Saleem becomes separated from the rest of the family. In their frantic search for a safe haven, Fereiba and Saleem will each bear witness to the brutal realities of life on the run, of the all-too-convenient abuses of undocumented refugees, especially, tragically, the children. The kindness of strangers sustains the family often – serving as necessary reminders of the saving grace of humanity.
If Khaled Hosseini has a female counterpart in the publishing world, that would certainly be Nadia Hashimi. Both have families of Afghan origin. Both have undergraduate degrees in biology. Both became doctors. Both are internationally bestselling authors. Hosseini has an almost two decade head start on Hashimi – which means she’s got ample time to catch up. He’s even helping her along, glowingly blurbing her to prominence.
Hashimi’s debut, the gender-bender The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, earned her international acclaim. Her follow-up here, which pubbed last month, should draw her an even broader audience: Hashimi returns onto shelves as an already established, proven entity among booksellers and readers with a sophomore title that is more universal family saga which happens to have an initial Afghan backdrop. Pearl, with its Afghanistan-specific narrative, might be the more distinctive novel, but Moon will likely prove to be the more accessible to readers worldwide. Both should guarantee Hashimi’s rising prestige.