Tag Archives: middle east

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Words in the Dust is the story of  Zulaikha, a 13-year-old Afghan girl born with a severly cleft palate.  Like many Afghan girls, Zulaikah does not attend school, is unable to read or write, and spends her days tending house with her stepmother and pretty, older sister, Zeynab.  Zulaikha regularly faces torment from cruel neighborhood children about her disfigured face and abuse from her stepmother, but is able to keep her dreams for a normal life someday alive.

When American soldiers roll into town and offer high-paying jobs to local Afghani citizens, including Zulaikha’s Baba (father), he declares that things are turning around for their family.  And it’s true.  Money is pouring in, Zulaikha meets a teacher woman who knew her mother and is willing to teach her to read and write, Zeynab is getting married soon and the soldiers have taken a special interest in fixing Zulaikha’s face, allowing her a spark of hope that her dreams could come true. 

But not everything turns out as expected and Zulaikha must draw on her strength and courage to face the difficult circumstances ahead.

Words in the Dust is an interesting and unique slice-of-life look at Afghan culture, in which Reedy makes sure to differentiate the difference between the Taliban and the regular citizens, explores the impact of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the differences between the two cultures, while also pulling back the curtain on those whose lives largely remain a mystery.  It’s a little slow in the beginning, but readers will be rewarded for sticking with it, for the second half of the book picks up the pace and packs a great emotional punch.  In his author’s note, Reedy explains that he is neither a girl, nor an Afghan and struggled with whether this was his story to tell.  He shares some statistics about illiteracy rates among Afghan women, rendering them unable to tell their own stories.  It was because of that fact that Reedy ultimately decided that he had to try.

I’ve read several adult memoirs about life in Middle Eastern countries and have always found them fascinating.  Reedy’s novel is an excellent introduction to an intriguing, yet often misunderstood, culture.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Young Adult | 272 pages | January 2011 | Arthur A. Levine Books | 0545261252 | Library copy

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The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Jennifer Steil (2010)

 “How does someone develop compassion for someone with a completely different set of values without reading something from their point of view?  Books are one of the few ways in which we can truly get into the heads of people we would never meet in our ordinary lives and travel to countries we would otherwise never visit.

I suppose that the harsh existence of most Yemenis leaves little time to contemplate other ways of life.  Perhaps it is only when our own lives are comfortable that we can afford to look out at the world beyond our personal borders” (p 177).

Jennifer Steil was initially invited to Yemen to give a 3 week crash course in journalism techniques to the reporters at the Yemen Observer.  Little did she know, those three weeks would change the course of her entire life. 

In a fascinating portrait of this Middle Eastern country, Steil painstakingly describes the challenges of running the Observer, as well paints a vivid picture of Yemeni culture and life.  In a place where the sexes are severely segregated, Steil is surprisingly highly revered (due to the face that she is a foreigner).  She is granted access to both the mens’ and womens’ intimate gatherings and pulls back the curtain on a society that is so vastly different from our Western ways.  I’m a sucker for travel memoirs and Steil’s story delivered.

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