When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi tells the story of Ferebia, a young woman from Kabul whose pleasant life with her husband and children comes to a half when her family is targeted by the Taliban. She and her children have no option but to flee the country, becoming refugees as they attempt to reach safety in London.
The book begins with a prologue as present-day Ferebia is alone watching her daughter and young son sleep and worrying about the safety of her eldest son, and when he will return. She knows that no matter where they end up they will always be foreigners on foreign land, and she wonders if there will ever be a time when she is not worrying about her children. I am normally not a fan of prologues but since chapter one of this book starts with Ferebia’s birth and early childhood, I guess it wasn’t too bad to have a prologue in the present to open the story.
There were two strikes against Ferebia from day one: the fact that her mother died during childbirth, and the fact that she wasn’t born a boy. Like most children whose mothers die when they are born, Ferebia was made to believe that it was her fault that her mother died, that her mere presence in the house haunted her family with bad luck. In a culture full of superstitions, this was a burden she carried for most of her life since she was deemed unlucky from day one. Whether or not she really is, is up to the reader to decide.
Her stepmother forbid her from going to school, insisting that she stay home to help with the housekeeping, so she spent the first thirteen years of her life watching her four younger sisters go off to school while she waited on her stepmother. It wasn’t until she was nearly fourteen that her father finally allowed her to attend, starting in first grade, and within four years she had graduated high school.
This difficult upbringing along with a unique arranged marriage fiasco leave her with a hardened heart, always feeling unloved and unwanted by everyone in her family except for her husband. It is the years in which her life seems to have finally fallen into place with a career and family and self-acceptance that the Taliban rise to power and send her life into peril. Ferebia’s life is once again no longer in her hands.
The book is divided into three parts and while I won’t reveal too much, I will say that a good two thirds of this books is actually about Ferebia’s oldest son, Saleem. The first part of the book and the remaining parts two and three almost felt like two completely different novels. They are connected but only slightly, and I really felt like I was reading two different books at one point. The cover description may have been a little misleading in that respect. I will say though, that this was a very enthralling book that I read quite quickly and it held my attention all throughout. Highly recommended for the beautiful writing and capturing, pertinent story being told.