Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: When the Moon is Low

Summary: 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. -- William Morrow

Last month, my book club read WHEN THE MOON IS LOW by Nadia Hashimi. I promised a review after my meeting recap, and it's taken me longer than it should have. That's unfortunate because I liked the novel quite a bit, and I think the author did a wonderful job of bringing the characters' plights to life.

WHEN THE MOON IS LOW begins with the story of Fereiba, a young girl growing up in Afghanistan. She faces some challenges along the way, including the loss of her mother; however, she eventually ends up marrying Mahmoud, a good man who loves and provides for his young family.

And then the Taliban enters the picture... and Mahmoud is taken away from Fereiba and their children. Without a husband and job, Fereiba is forced to flee Kabul and find a way to England where her sister lives. She has some forged papers and a little money, but Fereiba and her children become refugees, depending on the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.

The conditions are terrifying as Fereiba and her children make their way into Iran and then eventually Greece; however, her son Salem, is separated from her. Fereiba is forced to decide whether they should stay in Greece or continue to England (and safety!)

Meanwhile, Salem ends up using his wits, along with other undocumented Afghans, to survive in the busy cities of Europe. He is determined that he will eventually find his way to England and back to his family.

I really enjoyed WHEN THE MOON IS LOW. I love books about other cultures, and I felt that this novel was especially timely given the plight of so many refugees. I also thought the author did a wonderful job of creating characters who were real... and remained my mind long after I finished the novel. And that's what I enjoyed the most about WHEN THE MOON IS LOW.  It made me think and feel... and to me, that qualifies as a good book!

I found it interesting that the author chose to tell both Fereiba and Saleem's stories in one book. The first part of the book was Fereiba's and the second half was Saleem's. Fereiba's story was told in first person, in her own words, while Saleem's was told in a more distant third. I will admit to enjoying the first half of the novel more than the second. It wasn't that Saleem's story wasn't interesting. I just really loved Fereiba and her story.

WHEN THE MOON IS LOW wasn't an easy read for me. I immediately fell in love with Fereiba and her struggles as a child. First, I loved her innocence and how much she wanted to learn. Then, I loved the way she turned her life around and finally found some happiness. Little did I know how much her life would change and take a turn for the worse when the Taliban entered her world. It was then that I loved Fereiba even more as I admired her strength as a mother and a woman!

Saleem was an interesting character too, but I didn't find myself relating to his story quite as much. His ability to survive was incredible and I definitely admired how he kept his wits when everything was at stake. He was smart, determined, brave and loyal; and my heart broke for how much he had to go through at such a young age.

Another interesting thing about this novel was the ending. There was some difference of opinion in what actually happened at the end. I didn't even realize this until I got to our meeting! I guess I was so sure that I knew what happened. The ending of the novel is deliberately ambiguous, and personally, I liked it that way. I can't say that everyone agreed with me!

I think WHEN THE MOON IS LOW is an excellent book club discussion. We actually talked about this book for a long time, and you could definitely see how much this book affected us. There is a reading guide available with nine interesting questions. Some themes you might want to discuss include love, friendship, kindness of strangers, refugees, terrorism, family, grief, and perseverance.

WHEN THE MOON IS LOW is a well-written novel about one family's plight to flee the Taliban. It's touching and thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it to fans of novels about other cultures.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

This book sounds right up my alley. I think I would enjoy Fereiba's story more too, because first person narration is my favorite. Great review!

Carole said...

Hi Julie, looks like a good one! It would be great if you added your review to the Books You Loved: June collection over at Carole's Chatter. Cheers