Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy is a fictional account of an Afghan village girl and her life. Born with a cleft lip, her family and community treats her like a second-class citizen. She encounters American troops patrolling her village, and they offer her help in a surprising way. The pages of this book weave a story of joy, laughter, danger, sadness, tragedy and triumph.
Written for a younger audience (grades 5-8) than “heavy” reads such as The Kite Runner or The Great Game, Words in the Dust is a well-written fictional story with many accurate details about daily life for girls in an Afghan village. For example, Zulaikha, the 13-year old main character, shows us what it feels like to beat the dust out of the cushions in the livingroom, to pick the stones out of the rice, and to care for her younger brothers. We feel her struggle to contribute help to her family, yet at the same time, yearn to be free from responsibilities and to be able to learn and study as the boys do.
The author of this book deployed as a US soldier to Afghanistan, where he became fascinated with learning about the Afghan culture. Along with his first-hand experiences, interviews with English-speaking Afghans, and research, Reedy writes a remarkably accurate book from the point of view of an Afghan teenage girl.
There are some minor inaccuracies, such as the fruit that is served at Zulaikha’s sister’s summer wedding is only in season in the winter. Also, there are moments in family life that sound a little mild, or Hollywood–the realistic thing would be for the father to slap his daughter, but in the book, he hugs her or pats her on the head. But for the most part, this is a captivating, informative read.
This bittersweet book is an excellent way to introduce an older child to understanding life for children in Afghanistan. It’s also a great way to introduce the concept of point-of-view in literature. What greater contrast could there be, for an American male soldier to write a story from the perspective of an isolated teenage female Afghan villager?
Read a post on this blog about The Kite Runner
or other book reviews.
Read other posts on this blog about Afghan children.
Learn about Afghans through this short video: From Ruins to Redemption
Pray today for Afghan children…for their safety, health, education, and an opportunity to hear that Jesus loves them!