For Afghanistan’s children

2009-12-09 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Born Under a Million Shadows

Andrea Busfield

Random House/Struik

THERE’S no doubting the writing talents of journalist Andrea Busfield, who has produced an unexpectedly funny and upbeat story about the life of 11-year-old Afghani boy Fawad who lives by his wits in Kabul.

Fawad’s life as a part-time street urchin changes dramatically when his widowed mother secures work in a household of Westerners, and a whole new world opens up to him.

Busfield clearly understands the political and cultural terrain, having lived and worked in Afghanistan as a reporter for the News of the World and later as an editor for a Kabul newspaper funded by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.

Thus, she is able to write with ­impressive conviction about the ways of Western aid workers, the poverty of Afghanistan, the impact of the Taliban, and about daily life. She is successful at demystifying life in war-torn Afghanistan, importantly focusing as much on the good as the bad in the war-torn country.

Yet for all the book’s strengths, I was sorely troubled by Busfield’s choice of a first-person narrative to tell Fawad’s story. The pattern of his language, and the choice of vocabulary seem distinctly Western, with the unfortunate result that I didn’t take him as seriously as perhaps I should have.

At the back of the book is an appeal for support of a children’s NGO in Afghanistan. Perhaps that explains the author’s motive: to give a voice to children affected by violence in the country. I can’t fault the intention, but it left me wondering if I had just finished engaging with art or a creative sales pitch for a worthy cause. And whether it really matters...

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