Sparks Like Stars, by Nadia Hashimi, published by Harper Collins, pulls the reader behind the curtain of modern history to peak back stage at the impact of war and terror on individual lives. For most of us Afghanistan is a place name associated with religious extremism, terror, and warfare. However, it is also peoples’s home.
In the case of Hashimi’s book the person in question is Sitara Zamani, the daughter of the chief advisor to Sardar Daoud, president of Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. Sitara’s life is one of pampered privilege – living in the presidential palace with her best friend Daoud’s granddaughter, and being indulged by everyone from the armed guards to diplomatic staff.
All that ends during the Communist backed coup that overthrew Daoud in 1979. She had slipped out of the bedroom she shared with her parents and her brother because she couldn’t sleep and so wasn’t killed when the palace guards turned on the president. Saved only because one of the guards smuggled her out of the palace, and manages to take her to an American woman who works for the diplomatic service.
From there Hashimi traces her character’s trip to the US – as the surviving member of one of the ruling families she is being hunted – which turns out to be quite the harrowing experience – and how she eventually settles into life in America with her adoptive mother, the woman who took her in on the streets of Kabul.
Living under the name of her sister Aryana, born in America but died in infancy, whose US birth certificate gave Sitara a much needed passport, she becomes a successful oncologist. Hiding from her past behind a new name and a new life she thinks the horrors she experienced are well and truly behind her.
While America in its post 9/11 nationalism and its pledge to attack Afghanistan, in spite of the fact the majority of the high jackers were from Saudi Arabia, in order to protect its people brings some of the pain back, a new patient years later breaks through her careful protective barriers like a sledge hammer. How could she expect the same guard who saved her, and whom she still blames for her family’s death, to show up in her office?
Hashimi is a good enough writer to have given us clues to how fragile Aryana truly is. Little things leak through all the time. Her carefully constructed relationship with her current boyfriend which doesn’t allow them to spend very much time together is indicative of a reluctance for intimacy common to sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When this is coupled with her inability to tell people the truth about who she is and where she comes from we’re given a clear picture of someone deeply traumatized. She lives for her work and almost nothing else. So the arrival of her past in what is her supposed safe haven almost destroys her carefully constructed world.
While her adopted mom is long since retired from the American diplomatic core she still has contacts. When one of them lets her know the current Afghan government is beginning the process of digging up the graves of people killed in the coup that killed her family, nothing will stop Aryana from returning to Afghanistan to see if the bodies of her parents and brother will be among those recovered.
From the descriptions of Satira’s idyllic childhood through to watching the adult Aryana trying to navigate life Hashimi has created a riveting, heartbreaking, and eventually, affirming story. You will find yourself hanging onto every word and breathing in every sentence.
History is usually impersonal and flat. With Sparks Like Stars Hashimi has brought history off the page, personified in one person’s struggle to deal with the consequences of being caught up in its turmoil.
‘Sparks Like Stars’ by Nadia Hashimi is riveting and you will find yourself hanging onto every word and breathing in every sentence