Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Through my college roommate Susan, we were invited to join a supper club, and one of the members asked if I wanted to join her book club. (Picture me smiling.) During the time I was in Hickory, my book club was composed of people who had known me before joining the group. Some knew each other, but they all knew me. We made up our own rules (and very few of those) as we went along, so we were low on structure.
On my first meeting with my new group, I arrived at the hostess's home in Franklin in a beautiful area of this charming town. I knew only Gail, and I had met her only twice, but I liked her already. The rest of the group was diverse. One former book club member returned after a long absence, so I didn't feel like the only newbie. A couple were from South Africa and have arranged a trip for some of the group to go there this summer.
The book they had chosen for March was When the Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi. The story begins in Kabul, Afghanistan, told from the perspective of Fereiba, who loses her mother at birth and is raised by her rather disconnected father and a self-centered stepmother, who attempts to arrange a marriage for Fereiba that will be in the stepmother's own best interest. Nevertheless, Fereiba ends up in a happy marriage where she blossoms until the Taliban brings about changes that eventually shatter her happy home, leaving her no choice but to take her three children and to flee her home country.
From this point, Hashimi moves back and forth from the perspective of Fereiba and her son Salem, forced to grow up quickly in order to help the family slip across borders into Turkey then Greece, until they are separated and have to make their way separately to England, where they hope to rejoin family who left while the Taliban's threat level was still low.
This beautifully told story is a stark reminder of the dangers and challenges that so many refugees face while fleeing war-torn countries. As the daily news presents the current wave of Syrian refugees in terms of massive numbers, Hashimi reminds readers of their humanity.
Just a couple of evenings before the book club met, I attended a concert by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei at a local coffee shop. The show was free, but donations to Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) were encouraged. This group helps refugees in the resettlement process, finding work and educations, as well as addressing health concerns. I was once again reminded of the power of literature to encourage empathy through individuals' stories.