Title: When The Moon Is Low
Author: Nadia Hashimi
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: July 21st 2015
Mahmoud’s passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she’s ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.
Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister’s family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.
Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe’s capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives.
Trigger warning for sexual assault.
After reading Nadia Hashimi’s debut, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, I always wanted to read more of her work. Set in Afghanistan, her novels are reminiscent of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns but much less celebrated. I want this to change.
When The Moon Is Low is a lengthy, heart-breaking and yet heart-warming novel that explores one Afghan family’s harrowing journey to safety after their homeland is plagued by war under the Taliban. The story is dually narrated by a mother, Fereiba, and her teenage son, Saleem, also alternating between the first and third person perspective. This made for a rather interesting and unique read, appealing to both readers of adult and young adult fiction.
Despite being published years ago, this is a timely novel. It refuses to sugar-coat the reality that many refugees face today, forced to flee their homes only to struggle finding a country that will accept them, constantly living in fear of being caught and sent back to where they came from. It was a difficult read at times, forcing you to view things in an alternate perspective. I felt the fear in Hashimi’s words, too terrified that Saleem would get caught stealing food from the market to feed his family.
Despite this, some of the most emotional moments, for me, were the happy ones. The invaluable kindness of strangers. The brotherhood between refugees. The love between husband and wife. The bond between brother and sister. Nadia Hashimi did it once again.
The novel’s length and inconclusive ending may be unappealing to its readers, but they are undoubtedly reflective of the reality. From Afghanistan to Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Sudan, the growing refugee crisis is something we can no longer ignore. For refugees, the journey from their countries of origin is a long one and too often they don’t get a happy ending.