Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
This book has been around for a few years now and one of many sitting on the library shelf untouched. However, someone who loved it had recommended it to a reading list and I volunteered to read it. Am I glad that I did.
Since September 11 the media has been having a field day with Muslims and the Islamic faith. On our nightly news programs they are clearly identified as evil, blood thirsty fanatics. This book presents very clearly another point of view.
Najmah is a young Afghan girl living under that Taliban. Her family has taught her to keep her head down and not attract attention, do her chores without question and help wherever she can. She is bothered by her older brother, but what little girl anywhere in the world isn’t. And then one day the Taliban come to her village searching for food. They take everything, including a newborn kid (goat variety) Najmah is hand rearing because its mother rejected it. Her father is selected for military service (along with almost every other adult male in the village). When Nur (the older brother) objects, he gets drafted as well. Suddenly Najmah is forced to become the responsible adult in the family as her mother, a few days from giving birth, slides into depression. But Najmah manages to keep the home functioning and even look after the animals that were grazing in the mountains when the Taliban came. That is until the bombs start dropping. The American planes hunting Bin Laden destroy Najmah’s village killing her mother and baby brother. Suddenly she is truly alone in the world and joins a refugee family heading through the mountains to Pakistan.
In Pakistan Elaine has opened a school for refugee children. Elaine grew up in New York, working as a teacher and attending night classes. Here she met a fascinating young doctor and fell in love. He was from Afghanistan and a Muslim. Elaine studied his faith as part of seeking to know him better, and found that it made more sense to her than the fundamental Christianity her parents had promoted.
I find it amazing this book got published in the States. It is very pro-Islamic and does not support American military action in Afghanistan. Elaine is portrayed as an intelligent woman who knows her own mind, and voluntarily accepted the customs and dress code required to live in a conservative Muslim society. Najmah is very much the victim of war and as such she is portrayed as a very sympathetic character. However, her determination to return to her home in Afghanistan leaves her very few options for her future.
This book is a wonderful read. The story is not bright and cheerful, but rather poignant and positive. I certainly will be promoting it to students. It is too important a publication to allow it to gather dust.