I received an advanced reader’s edition of When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi through The Reading Room. (Yay! Books!) With my background in multicultural literature, I was thrilled to get this story set in Kabul by an Afghan American. This was a story that wanted to be told and a story I wanted to read.
On a whole, Hashimi attempts too much. She can’t seem to decide if the story is, as billed on the blurb, the story of Fereiba who flees her home with her three children after the rise of the Taliban, or the story of Fereiba’s eldest, who owns a story of survival separate from that of his mother. Each story is valid, vivid and strong. Yet, by telling Saleem’s story, she’s done Fereiba a disservice and vice versa. Don’t get me wrong – Hashimi is a very talented writer – but this novel has an identity crisis -- She cannot do both.
Fereiba’s story is much more compelling than Saleem’s I eagerly found myself awaiting her voice to return in Part Two of the novel. Where did the woman who taught classes in secret until the families no longer sent the girls go? What happened to a voice that was loud, clear and full of survival? In Part Two, Fereiba is rendered mute just as effectively as Samira. Hashimi went to great lengths to paint Fereiba in the vibrant colors of strength, courage, love and grace. Then, as Saleem rose to manhood, her colors dulled, her ability to think for herself vanished, and she became a shell of the woman I’d so come to admire in Part One. I wanted to see her journey. Though it was less treacherous due to the travel documents, the journey was difficult both physically and emotionally - I wanted to know how this STRONG woman handled it. Hashimi seems to gloss over this with a brush her hand, clearly favoring the seemingly more drama-packed story of Saleem.
Saleem’s story is a classic Bildungsroman with a multicultural slant. While his section is interesting, it annoyed me because his mother’s journey, with her children, was nearly entirely abandoned for nearly every (if not all) horrible thing a migrant/refugee could possibly face on his journey. The human trafficking section was like being hit over the head and told “this is wrong.” Show me. Don’t tell me. Just a hint of the horrors Mimi faced and how she wound up working the streets would have proven more effective. In the same vein, the drug trafficking seemed an afterthought and a poorly developed one at that. Again, just hinting that Saleem was transporting drugs would have been enough, though, quite frankly, the section does not carry the novel forward in anyway other than physically getting him closer to his destination. Mimi at least served as a little more; she represents the moment he “became a man.”
By the end of the novel, I didn’t care if Saleem made it across the channel to rejoin his family. I was frustrated that the book was over and Fereiba, the woman I’d grown to love in a brief one hundred or so pages, never returned with the same heart that beat on first half of the book.