An Afghan American woman returns to Kabul to learn the truth about her family and the tragedy that destroyed their lives in this brilliant and compelling novel from the bestselling author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, The House Without Windows, and When the Moon Is Low.
Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives.
Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon. A survivor, Aryana has refused to look back, choosing instead to bury the trauma and devastating loss she endured.
New York, 2008: Thirty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge. Realizing that she cannot go on without finding the truth, Aryana embarks on a quest that takes her back to Kabul—a battleground between the corrupt government and the fundamentalist Taliban—and through shadowy memories of the world she loved and lost.
Bold, illuminating, heartbreaking, yet hopeful, Sparks Like Stars is a story of home—of America and Afghanistan, tragedy and survival, reinvention and remembrance, told in Nadia Hashimi’s singular voice.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and to the publisher for the paperback copy to review.
I don’t pretend to fully understand the political turmoil that Afghanistan has gone through over the years but like so many, I was horrified and heartbroken at the events of last year and of what the future holds for the Afghan people. When I received the invite to read and review this, I didn’t hesitate and whilst this story ends in 2008, reading Sparks Like Stars has been such a rewarding and educating experience.
I won’t repeat the story again because the description tells you enough of the details. The first half of the book is set in 1978, when an orphaned Sitara is taken from the Palace in Kabul by one of the guards. Knowing that this man has been complicit in killing her family, she has no idea who she can trust and with no-one to protect her, her future is uncertain. For such a young girl, she certainly was very brave and resourceful however the traumas she faced in her young life took their toll.
The path to freedom and a new life is not straightforward but with a new identity the story moves forward 30 years to an adult Aryana, a surgeon in New York. It’s 2008 and Afghanistan has seen invasions by both the Soviets and the Taliban. She has a successful and demanding career, a boyfriend but her life is not complete. She may have left her old name and life behind but the barriers she has erected around herself no longer keep the thoughts of her homeland away and after coming face to face with her past, she feels compelled to return to Kabul to look for answers.
Sparks Like Stars combines fact and fiction. It is a complex and lengthy read but such an engrossing one and Aryana’s voice is so convincing that I was completely absorbed and often forgot that I was reading a novel and not a memoir. Vivid and evocative descriptions of culture and location give a sense of place together with an insight into another way of life and there was so much of interest. What I particularly loved was the relationship between Aryana and ‘Mom’, they were not blood relatives but they had a love and respect for each other that was so incredibly moving. With themes that include grief, identity, family and loss, Aryana’s story is not a light hearted one, there is much heartache and adversity, but it’s also one of determination and the desire to finally put the ghosts to rest.
I didn’t realise until I added this book to Goodreads that I already have another book by Nadia Hashimi on my Kindle that I purchased some time ago, The Pearl that Broke It’s Shell, her debut from 2014. Having seen from reading this book just how good her writing is, this is one that I want to bump up the book mountain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents. She is a pediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, suburbs. She is the author of three books for adults, as well as the middle grade novels One Half from the East and The Sky at Our Feet.
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