CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2009.
190 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-862-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-858-3 (hc.).
Afghan War, 2001-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The last time someone died, our house was full of people, all coming with whatever food they could spare.
But then so many people were killed.
It doesn't look like that's going to happen this time. There have been too many funerals. People are tired. And with all the mines left behind in the fields, and the years of drought, there's little food.
The aunties leave for home. That's the signal for the men to come in and take my mother away, charpaee and all.
Let them be gentle.
Jameela, a child living in rural Afghanistan, has one goal: to make her beloved mother proud of her. When her mother dies after a short illness, Jameela is left with her drug-addicted and abusive father who sells all their belongings and brings her to work as a near-slave in his native Kabul. At first, Jameela tries to live up to her mother's instructions to be a good girl: to remain calm and to be obedient. But when her father abandons her in the market and she is brought by strangers to live in an orphanage, she can't stifle her rage and despair. As she grows up without her family, Jameela learns to negotiate her feelings and reactions while trying to become a modest, kind, and devout woman who would make her mother proud.
Set in post-Taliban Afghanistan, after the American invasion, the idea for the book grew from the true story of Sameela, about whom Rukhsana Khan had read in an Afghan report on children in crisis. As Khan comments in a brief author's note, Sameela's stepmother didn't want her, and so her father left her in the marketplace, and she ended up living in a Kabul orphanage. Sameela's story becomes fictionalized in Wanting Mor, the first young adult novel by Khan, an established children's author.
The book's deeply interior narrative focuses on Jameela's thoughts, feelings, and observations about a topsy-turvy world in which her place is uncertain. Above anything, Jameela longs for her demeanor to reflect that of her deceased mother who was the gentlest person she knew. At first,
she tries to fit into her new surroundings in Kabul by following her Mor's instructions to be good, and this longing even provokes her to wish death so that she could escape any opportunity to do anything bad. However, she discovers that being quiet and obedient isn't good enough in a world in which she must look out for herself. Even her newly-found ability to read doesn't make her a better person, as her friend Soraya points out. Rather, Jameela begins to heal her own heart; first by confronting her father and stepmother, then by acting on her own vision of goodness which includes becoming a caring and motherly person, as her own mother would have wanted.
The context of the Wanting Mor is as heartbreaking as Jameela's own story. Khan writes about the devastation wreaked by years of war, and she includes horrifying stories of atrocities committed against the Afghan people and land. In particular, the novel contains criticism about the American occupiers whose intentions and actions are conflicted. As Jameela points out, although the soldiers cause great devastation, they also bestow miracles, including a surgeon's repair of her cleft lip. Though it seems that no end to the country's problems are in sight, Khan
portrays the Afghans as doing their best to endure.
I think that Wanting Mor will be of general interest to adolescent readers, particularly considering the current nature of the story, as Afghanistan remains in the news headlines. The novel provides an interesting glimpse at the country and shares some of the turmoil its people have endured. Overall, Wanting Mor is a fast-paced story about the triumph of one girl's spirit in the face of horrifying trauma.
Pam Klassen-Dueck is a graduate student in the M.Ed. program at Brock University.
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