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When The Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Fereiba has not had an ideal childhood. But, it’s the only one she has known. She is burdened by the guilt that her mother’s life was cut short at childbirth because of her. Plus, her new stepmother definitely won’t let her forget that she holds that bit of bad luck as a curse over the family. But is it really Fereiba’s fault that her stepmother is only able to conceive daughters instead of the prized son that’s so revered in the society? Strike one for Fereiba!

Fereiba is forced to work in the house, taking care of her sisters, and helping her stepmom with the housework. She yearns to study like her sisters, but her stepmom always has an excuse that there’s too much work to be done for her to do both. Strike two!

But when her sisters are a bit older and start school, Fereiba has a chance to pursue her dream and decides to approach her stoic father about going to school. Both her and her stepmother are surprised when he supports the decision. Win one!

As she becomes older, Fereiba finds herself questioning her place in the family and is often on an emotional low. In a quest to find somewhere quiet to contemplate her thoughts, she seeks refuge in the nearby forest, where she ends up befriending an unseen boy who offers her some comfort by his advice. Win two!

Then comes a series of unsettling events. She’s about to be betrothed to a boy that she’s despises, who is in fact quite a low-life -- but how can she refuse? Strike three!

And, so goes the story of When The Moon Is Low. Just like life’s journey there are wins and losses; in Fareiba’s case the losses overpower the wins. But you willingly go on that painstakingly endearing journey with Fareiba notwithstanding the odds that are stacked against her, searching for the light at the end of the tunnel so that she will triumph over all the hardships. This is a story of terror, survival, perseverance, and hope that chronicles one brave Afghan woman's odyssey to save her family and find asylum in the West.

One of my favourite moments was when Nadia Hashimi took on the narrative from Fareiba’s son’s Saleem’s perspective. So poignant was that turn in direction; he was the character that really had me hooked. 

Saleem had to grow up overnight, the moment they were forced to leave Kabul. 

"As a young child, he'd seldom worried about money. If he did think about money, it was to wonder if he had enough to pay for a piece of candy or a soda in the market. They were far from wealthy, but Padar-jan made sure that they had plenty. After his death, Madar-jan rationed their savings and meted out small allowances for groceries and the absolute essentials. Saleem knew they had little, but it never occurred to him that their funds would dry up entirely. Now that he was passing his wages over to his mother, he understood that they were financially in a very precarious position." 

When The Moon Is Low is a story that illustrates how an entire lifetime can change in an afternoon, as the rest of the world continues on, unaware of a quiet, solitary cataclysm occurring a few feet away. Is this how life is meant to be? Every time you take one step forward, is it inevitable that you will quickly fall two steps behind? 

I found earlier that while the story was moving in the right direction, with all the twists and turns you’d expect, there was an element of emotional flatness to the characters. I longed to understand deeply how Fareiba actually felt. But, I couldn't quite get into her head. What was it that made her tick, what really did she long for besides the words that I was reading on the page. I would have liked for that leap from the page to my heart.  

But this story of the courage and tenacity is one that must be read, because it has a voice that resonates in this day and age. 


When The Moon Is Low is published by Harper Collins Canada.

Review by
@ShilpaRaikar for @SukasaReads (a division of @SukasaStyle)