Review Blog

Apr 29 2010

Jameela by Rukhsana Khan

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2010. 978 1743272594
(Ages 10-13) When Jameela's mother dies in their small home in a village in Afghanistan, her father resorts to smoking opium, coming home a few days later with news of moving to Kabul. Jameela must pack her few belonging, the rest of the goods and the house having been sold, and they stay in a friend's house in the city while father finds work. Jameela's life is in turmoil, but none more so when father announces he is to remarry. His new wife treats Jameela harshly, and when she spies a friendship between the disfigured girl and her son, persuades her father to do something more permanent. On the pretence of going shopping at the market, Jameela is left by a shop. She waits all day, only the kindly butcher, realising what her father has done, offering her food and water, then shelter for the night. He and his wife cannot keep her and so take her to the orphanage, where a new world opens up for her.
Here she learns to read and helps the teacher in the classroom. When soldiers come to the orphanage they inspect her face, despite trying to keep her porani about her, and she is taken away and her lip fixed. At the orphanage she befriends Soraya a young girl, who develops a plan to get back at the mother in law, when she comes to the orphanage seeking Soraya as a wife for her son.
A Cinderella story for our times, this marvelous book, suffused with Afghani words and phrases, infused with the sights and sounds of Afghanistan at war, will help to enlighten its readers as to how children survive in a war ravaged country where food is always short, parents make horrific decisions, and compassion comes from the most unlikely of quarters. Readers will empathize with this young girl as she tries to find a place to call home, struggling with the strange girls at the orphanage, trying to keep up her religious views despite opposition and distraught at her father's decision to abandon her. She is a strong minded young girl, a character with whom readers will immediately identify. That it is based on a true story adds piquancy to the mix, increasing its appeal. A glossary at the end adds new words to the readers' vocabulary, and gives them a peep into the world of an Afghani girl.
Fran Knight

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