October 08, 2011
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Words in the Dust was a very interesting story. It wasn't the easiest of reads, due to its subject matter, but there was a lot of detail put into this novel. Trent Reedy, the author, actually intended this book for children, but I think adults could take something from it as well.
Zulaikha is a young girl growing up after the end of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. She's not like other girls in her area however. Sure she wears the same clothes, eats the same food, and helps in her family's home like any other girl, but she is disfigured and this causes her great torment among the other kids and sometimes even her own family. Born with a cleft lip she has been raised mostly be her father's second wife after her mother was killed by the Taliban for having books. She has several brothers and one older sister who she adores. It is during this time that her sister is betrothed to marriage and everything starts happening quickly. Americans arrive in her town and they discover her and want to help her with surgery that will repair her lip. She also meets an old friend of her mother's who begins to teach her to read and write in secret and offers her a chance at school. Several set backs happen though and it seems as though Zulaikha will not find happiness easily nor have her lip fixed easily as well.
As the characters are somewhat based on real people (according to the author's notes) they don't actually have a lot of depth to them. We see them all through Zulaikha's eyes but still don't get an overall sense of them. This is especially noticeable when Malehkah, her father's second wife, completely changes personality at the end of the novel. One could argue that it was Zulaikha growing and seeing her different, but that is not easily readable from the book, especially since its geared towards children. Her father is an enigma and I wasn't sure what to think about him. Zulaikha herself we get to experience a whole range of emotions with but I never felt truly connected to her as a character.
The writing is well enough done. It is in the first person from Zulaikha's view so everything we experience is through her eyes and her thoughts. And she is very conflicting at times with what she feels towards certain people. I think the author did a good job of removing himself from being an American soldier to seeing the world through an Afghani girls eyes. The only flaw I would really find with the writing is that it seemed rushed. There were a lot of things that happened and to me, it didn't cohesively come together and made the story a bit choppy with the different things that were happening. I think that might be why I had such a hard time finding empathy with this book; all the right emotions were there, they just weren't expressed fully. Another note would be, that while this was geared for kids, there is some hard stuff for them in here including violence and just the culture itself might be hard for a child to understand. Please don't think I'm saying they shouldn't read the book, but rather that a parent should be there to answer any questions that may come up in the reading.
I did enjoy the book and think that its a well done piece of fiction. It seems mostly believable and gives reader's a different view of what has gone on in Afghanistan aside from all the horrible things shown about its people on the news.
Words in the Dust
268 pages + glossary and pronunciation guide