Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Book Review: Born Under a Million Shadows

Born Under A Million Shadows is Andrea Busfield's first novel. It is set in Kabul, Afghanistan after the Taliban have withdrawn, and follows a young boy, Fawad and his mother, Mariya. They begin a new life when Mariya gets a housekeeping job for a Western woman, Georgie, and her friends James and May. The book traces the characters as they each seek happiness, and adjust to life together. Although the Taliban no longer rule the streets the shadows of their regime remain, and threaten the lives and freedom of Fawad's friends.

I found this book really interesting. Although it is not as serious or gripping as I was expecting (after reading other books set in Afghanistan), it is full of conversations and events that made me think. From Fawad trying to understand the ways of the Western women, to the adult relationships that he always finds slightly baffling, the loyalty to their country and faith shown by the Afghan characters and the message of hope and renewal that comes through the novel as a whole - it all adds up to a very interesting read.

One of my favourite things about the book is the way that Fawad's religious views come across. He is Muslim, as are all the Afghan characters, and the way that Busfield has made this such a major part of his character, his thoughts constantly turning to it, his efforts to act in line with his beliefs, is very well done. I liked that it wasn't just thrown in as an afterthought - it was clear that the author understood the impact the faith has on a person's life.

I also liked the juxtaposition of the Western and Afghan characters. The story is narrated soley by Fawad so they Westerners are often viewed with a certain amount of trepidation and bemusement - but I like the relationships that develop. Although Fawad struggles to understand them at times, this is not allowed to stand in the way of friendship.

Born Under A Million Shadows is a perfect book to take on holiday, for when you have the time to savour it, but don't want your mood dragged down by something too heavy. It's light reading but has depth to it as well. I'm sure I will read it again, and in paperback it is even light enough to stick in your bag for a picnic in the park or a day on the beach.

{Note: Macmillan US sent me a free review copy of this book but this has had no impact on the content of this review - except to say thank you to them!}


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