Intertwined portraits of courage and hope in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Najmah, a young Afghan girl whose name means "star," suddenly finds herself alone when her father and older brother are conscripted by the Taliban and her mother and newborn brother are killed in an air raid. An American woman, Elaine, whose Islamic name is Nusrat, is also on her own. She waits out the war in Peshawar, Pakistan, teaching refugee children under the persimmon tree in her garden while her Afghan doctor husband runs a clinic in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.
Najmah's father had always assured her that the stars would take care of her, just as Nusrat's husband had promised that they would tell Nusrat where he was and that he was safe. As the two look to the skies for answers, their fates entwine. Najmah, seeking refuge and hoping to find her father and brother, begins the perilous journey through the mountains to cross the border into Pakistan. And Nusrat's persimmon-tree school awaits Najmah's arrival. Together, they both seek their way home.
Known for her award-winning fiction set in South Asia, Suzanne Fisher Staples revisits that part of the world in this beautifully written, heartrending novel.
Under the Persimmon Tree is a 2006 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
Having already shown a profound understanding of Middle-Eastern culture in books such as Shabanu and Shiva's Fire, Staples offers readers a new level of insight in this timely portrayal of Afghanistan in the months following September 11. Here, the author alternately expresses the views of two survivors: young Najmah, a villager living in the Kunduz Hills, and Nusrat, the American wife of an Afghan doctor. After her mother and newborn brother are killed by a bomb, Najmah travels with neighbors headed for the Pakistan border. Disguised as a boy, Najmah endures a harrowing journey to the edge of Afghanistan, where she parts from her companions to cross the border on her own, determined to find her father and older brother, who have been conscripted by the Taliban army. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Nusrat anxiously awaits news of her husband, who left home to run a clinic for war victims. The paths of the two protagonists cross when Najmah is brought to Nusrat's school for refugees (which is held under a persimmon tree). Sharing a deep sense of loss, anxiety for their loved ones' safety and a passionate interest in the stars, Najmah and Nusrat give each other strength to face an uncertain future. The author fills in tangible details of day-to-day life in a strife-ridden land. While avoiding political commentary, Staples powerfully and honestly expresses the plight of a civilization caught between terrorists and American bombs. Ages 12-up.