Afghanistan is in the news almost every day, and those children who hear about the war there have questions about the people of Afghanistan and the culture there. Wanting Mor by Pakistani author Rukhsana Khan could serve as an introduction to a country that has become, for better or for worse, a preoccupying subject for Americans and for the world.
When Jameela’s mother, Mor, dies, her father decides that he and Jameela will move from their village to Kabul to start a new life. Unfortunately, Jameela’s father is a self-centered and cruel man. In a story that reminded me of Hansel and Gretel, Jameela’s father acquires a new wife, and then decides that Jameela, with her cleft lip and general uselessness, is an impediment to his new life.
The points that interested me the most in this book were those where cultures and ideas intersected. Jameela’s father and his new wife are typical of city dwellers in many third world and Muslim countries who are becoming Westernized and losing their loyalty to traditional customs and religious laws. Jameela herself finds comfort and strength in the traditions of Islam, particularly the head covering or chadri (also called a burka), that serves to protect Jameela from prying eyes and from the embarrassment that she feels over her cleft lip. The orphanage where Jameela ends up living is dependent on the charity of Americans and of other wealthy Afghanis and foreigners, but the attitude that children and the management of the orphanage have toward these benefactors is sometimes less than respectful or even grateful. This conversation between Jameela and another of the orphans shows the difficulties in such a relationship and perhaps could clue us in to how the Muslim world in general might feel about Americans and other westerners a lot of the time:
“What do you think of this new donor lady?”
I shrug. “She seems all right.”
“They all do when they first arrive.”
“What about the soldiers? They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Suraya scowls. “They’re invaders. They want to control us. They won’t be happy until they change us so we’re just like them.”
“They fixed things. You should be grateful.”
Soraya stands up and paces around our small room.
“I’m tired of being grateful.”
People do get tired of being grateful. And somehow we will have to find a way to leave Afghanistan, and Iraq, with a sense of mutual respect and cooperation. At least, I hope we can.
And I hope we can find a way to help girls like Jameela without taking away their cultural heritage or their self-respect.
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.