Under the Persimmon Tree

by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Najmah is a young Afghan girl who helps her family herd goats. When her father and... read more

Najmah is a young Afghan girl who helps her family herd goats. When her father and brother are conscripted by the Taliban, Najmah and her mother try to keep Najmah’s uncle from claiming their land. But life is achingly hard, and Najmah’s mother and newborn brother die. Najmah ends up a refugee, posing as a small boy for safety as she makes a dangerous journey with a group of families to the city of Peshawar. There she finds respite at a small school for refugee children. Nusrat is an American woman who converted to Islam after she met Faiz, an Afghan doctor in New York. They fell and love and married, but her conversion had nothing to do with him and everything to do with her own search for meaning: she feels at home with Islam. They came to Afghanistan together after Faiz felt the need to help people suffering under the Taliban’s brutal rule. In Peshawar, Nusrat focuses her energy and attention on the small school she runs for refugee children, saving her worry about Faiz, whom she hasn’t heard from, and whose work has taken him into the most dangerous parts of the country, for the times she is alone. In a story that moves back and forth between Najmah’s quiet, compelling first-person voice, and a third-person narrative chronicling Nusrat’s experiences, Suzanne Fisher Staples gradually weaves these two lives together in her illuminating novel set in Afghanistan at the start of the twenty-first century. It is a story that chronicles the horror of oppression and, ultimately, the strength of the human spirit. While Najmah’s story is accessible to children, the adult concerns of Nusrat’s life are more likely to engage older readeres. (Ages 12–18)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2006

show less