Review – Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Today we hear from Bookbabbler Pamela..

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven out of Afghanistan. She hopes for a better relationship with her hard stepmother. And she hopes one day even to go to school. Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the poetry she once taught her mother. And the Americans come to the village, promising not just new opportunities, but surgery to mend Zulaikha’s face. But can Zulaikha dare to hope they will come true? Trent Reedy’s breathtaking first novel is based on his experiences serving with the US Army in Afghanistan and, in a land where hidebound traditions clash with an emerging desire for freedom, offers humanity and hope.

Words in the Dust is very much an inspirational and hopeful debut novel. Our protagonist is a young Afghan girl named Zulaikha. Zulaikha’s days are spent trying to please her hard step-mother, keeping up with her mountain of chores and looking after her younger brothers. But her existence is only made harder by the fact that she was born with a cleft lip. She hides her face in public with a chador, but that doesn’t stop the cruel taunts from local children…or morbid looks from adults.

Zulaikha’s life is changed when the American’s arrive. They wave to the children as the drive by in their large armoured cars with guns, tossing sweets and toys. But one notices Zulaikha, and word begins to spread about the girl with the cleft lip and when they tell her family that they can arrange for corrective surgery, Zulaikha is overjoyed.

While she is waiting to get her surgery, a chance encounter on an outing to fetch her brother brings Meena into Zulaikha’s life. Meena taught Zulaikha’s late mother old Afghani poetry and wants to continue her teachings with Zulaikha.

Having her mouth repaired and being taught to read and write is a life-altering change for Zulaikha. She can look beyond her family’s compound and know there is a bigger world beyond. And with Meena teaching her, a world of opportunity opens up.

Zulaikha’s story is steeped in reality and it has been awhile since I have been so moved. Her patience and deep-rooted faith makes Zulaikha one of the strongest and most inspirational characters I have ever encountered.

A lot of people would benefit from reading this book. Zulaikha can teach people a lot about how they view others, how they then are treated, and also how they view their own lives. Words in the Dust makes you evaluate everything – from wastage to kindness and the most prominent – common misconceptions about Afghanistan.

Extraordinarily moving.

Thanks, Pamela, and thanks to Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for sending us a copy to review. It’s out for you to buy this month…