Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

Isn’t it interesting how much attention a country gets when we (the U.S.) go to war with or invade them? How many children’s books can you name set in Sri Lanka, Armenia, or even modern Italy? But there are several set in in Vietnam and now in modern Afghanistan. That’s not a criticism, just an observation, perfectly understandable.

Shooting Kabul takes place in 2001 when Fadi and his family flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. In the confusion of their escape, Fadi’s six year old sister, Mariam, is left behind. And each person in the family feels guilty for having let it happen. Fadi’s father, Habib, feels th loss of honor for not having taken care of his daughter. Fadi’s mother, Zafoona, knows that it was her responsibility as a mother to make sure Mariam was on the truck that took the family across the border into Pakistan. And Fadi’s older sister Noor says that it was her job to look after the younger chldren, so it’s her fault that Mariam was left behind. However, Fadi knows that it was his refusal to help Mariam with her beloved doll, Gulmina, that really caused Mariam be left, and now it is twelve year old Fadi who must get Mariam back. Can he win the photography contest and the airplane tickets to India and find Mariam?

Fadi is a great character, a kid who worries about his family and his responsibilities and his honor. Kids do worry, and adults sometimes don’t realize how complicated and difficult a young person’s decisions and dilemmas can be. I liked the photography angle in the story and the details about what makes a good photograph and how to deal with lighting and other technical difficulties. I also liked the glimpses of a modern Afghan family integrating religious beliefs, cultural practices, and family crises in a new and somewhat trying environment, San Francisco, CA.

The story is partly about adapting to a new culture, but the overriding theme is that of blame and shared responsibility and a family caring for one another. Fadi’s family share the guilt that comes from having left Mariam behind, and they share the sense of obligation to do everything possible to find Mariam and bring her home. It’s an exciting, yet realistic, story that kids can connect with and grow from reading.

More kids or YA books set in Afghanistan or about Afghans:
Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan. Semicolon review here.
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.
Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis.
Mud City by Deborah Ellis.
Camel Bells by Janne Carlsson.
Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples.
Thunder Over Kandahar by Sharon McKay.
Count Your Way Through Afghanistan by Kathleen Benson, James Haskins, and Megan Moore.
Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Mike Sullivan and Tony O’Brien. Reviewed at The Well Read Child.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter.

Shooting Kabul has been nominated for the 2010 Cybil Awards in the Middle Grade Fiction category.

4 thoughts on “Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai

  1. Sherry,
    Thanks for your nuanced and insightful review of SHOOTING KABUL! I enjoyed writing it, with the hope that it opens a new world for readers who’ve heard about Afghanistan and our role there.

    NH Senzai

  2. I too read Shooting Kabul – but only after I wrote Thunder Over Kandahar! (The last thing I need is to get other stories, on the same topic, mixed up in my head.)
    I loved the book and it’s on my list, along with anything Deb Ellis writes, that I recommend to children when doing school visits.
    Sharon McKay,

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