What Changes Everything

Overview


Masha Hamilton’s fifth novel, What Changes Everything, is truly an American story: an exploration of our twisted, misguided, generous relationship with an enigmatic country — Afghanistan. It is the story of Clarissa, who in a gamble to save her kidnapped husband’s life makes the best decisions she can in the dark nights of Brooklyn, boldly rejecting the advice of U.S. authorities. It is also the story of Stela, who owns a used bookstore in Ohio and writes letter after letter in hopes of comprehending the loss of...
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What Changes Everything

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Overview


Masha Hamilton’s fifth novel, What Changes Everything, is truly an American story: an exploration of our twisted, misguided, generous relationship with an enigmatic country — Afghanistan. It is the story of Clarissa, who in a gamble to save her kidnapped husband’s life makes the best decisions she can in the dark nights of Brooklyn, boldly rejecting the advice of U.S. authorities. It is also the story of Stela, who owns a used bookstore in Ohio and writes letter after letter in hopes of comprehending the loss of a son on an Afghan battlefield. And it's the stories of Mandy, the mother of a gravely wounded soldier from Texas, Danil, an angry Brooklyn street artist, and Todd, a career aid worker who for a moment let down his guard in a Kabul marketplace. At the same time, What Changes Everything tells the stories of two Afghans: Najibullah, the former president of Afghanistan during the Communist era, and Amin — a fictional character, unlike Najib — who as a boy tried to save Najibullah and failed, and who now risks his own life in a driven effort to help Todd.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Engaging....Straddling two lands while depicting the strength of human relationships even in the darkest moments, this seamless blend of fact and fiction through illuminating prose makes the story a rewarding and thought-provoking read."
Publishers Weekly

"Hamilton’s descriptions are vivid, especially when portraying the tension and uncertainty that families of political prisoners endure. Fans of topical fiction will appreciate this knowledgeable and nuanced view of the Afghan war."
Library Journal

“Journalist-turned-novelist Masha Hamilton has produced a new novel in her trademark vein, with harrowing crisis, conflict and dilemma, and deep psychological probing of self.”
THE WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS

“Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you want to wrest even your own work from readers’ hands and command that they instead read this. Masha Hamilton’s What Changes Everything is that kind of amazing.”
Ms Magazine

“Intensely gripping and beautifully written, What Changes Everything shows the lengths we will go to to save each other and ourselves. A stunning collage of loss, grief, love, and most of all, survival, Hamilton’s characters – and their stories – are richly drawn and achingly real.”
Jillian Cantor, author of Margot

“Quite simply stunning. Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you want to wrest even your own work from readers’ hands and command that they instead read this. Masha Hamilton’s What Changes Everything is that kind of amazing. Hamilton knows the surreal world that is present day Afghanistan firsthand, and she delivers the grief and love that world spills into our own with pace, grace, and—perhaps most surprisingly—humor. I held my breath through a kidnapping, and at women stepping beyond the boundaries allowed them, into the kind of danger that is necessary for change. I fell in love, improbably, with an Afghani aide-turned-negotiator and an American wielding spray paint in dark places on dark nights. I at turns laughed and cried at a mother’s attempts, through letters, to gain her son’s death the attention it deserves. In the end, I felt I understood some truth I had not brought with me to the book, and I felt uplifted, and hopeful that writing like this might, in fact, be a step toward changing everything.”
Meg Waite Clayton (best-selling author of "The Four Ms. Bradwells", "The Wednesday Sisters", and "The Language of Light")

"What Changes Everything shows us the dance of war in all its heartbreaking details, weaving into the most secret places in the human heart. Her story shows what we lose in war, and how we get to the other side of survival. Masha Hamilton is such a gifted writer."
Laura Fitzgerald, author of Dreaming in English

“As real and immediate as a racing pulse, Hamilton's dark jewel of a novel turns the political into the personal with a blazing tapestry of characters, all grappling with the terrifying cost of war and the unbreakable bonds of love. Thrilling and magnificent.”
Caroline Leavitt, New York Times best-selling author of Pictures of You

Publishers Weekly
Conflict in Afghanistan sets the stage for this engaging narrative weave from Hamilton (31 Hours), Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the US Embassy in Kabul. Tragedy strikes when Todd, the director of a humanitarian organization in Kabul, is suddenly abducted. Clarissa, his wife in Brooklyn, struggles to deal with her now-detained husband's uncertain fate and inability "to celebrate the plain pillow that catches one's head each night." Then there is Stela, a heartbroken Cleveland mother who has lost one son in battle and her other son to a grave misunderstanding. Keeping her bookstore to "feel less alone," she writes endless letters in an effort to express herself. Mandy, a mother from Texas, travels to Kabul as a hospital aid worker to better understand her own personal tragedy, for "maybe she'd heal herself in their hospitals, by a taste of the country that had chewed up her son and then spit him back." These tales merge with the true story of Mohammad Najibullah, late president of Afghanistan, recounted through imagined letters to his daughters. Straddling two lands while depicting the strength of human relationships even in the darkest moments, this seamless blend of fact and fiction through illuminating prose makes the story a rewarding and thought-provoking read. (June)
Library Journal
In this new novel by Hamilton (31 Hours), who currently works at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and founded the Afghan Women's Writing Project, a seemingly disconnected series of narratives cohere around the theme of America's experience in Afghanistan. When a refugee aid worker named Todd is kidnapped for ransom, his wife and daughter back home in Brooklyn struggle with trust—in the FBI and in each other. Stela, a Russian immigrant who owns a bookstore in Cleveland, has lost one son in Afghanistan; her other son, now a Brooklyn street artist, refuses to communicate with her. Mandy, a nurse, travels to Afghanistan ostensibly to bring medical supplies but in fact to find a connection with her embittered son, a veteran who is a double amputee. Amin, formerly an aide to a deposed Afghani president (whose fictionalized letters from prison lend the novel its historical perspective), is determined to negotiate Todd's release. VERDICT Hamilton's descriptions are vivid, especially when portraying the tension and uncertainty that families of political prisoners endure. Fans of topical fiction will appreciate this knowledgeable and nuanced view of the Afghan war.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609531041
  • Publisher: Unbridled Books
  • Publication date: 10/14/2014
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 288

Meet the Author


Masha Hamilton is the author of four acclaimed novels, most recently 31 Hours, which The Washington Post called one of the best novels of 2009, and independent bookstores named an Indiebound Indie Next List choice.

She also founded two world literacy projects, the Camel Book Drive and the Afghan Women's Writing Project.

She is the winner of the 2010 Women's National Book Association award, presented "to a living American woman who derives part or all of her income from books and allied arts, and who has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation."

She began her career as a full-time journalist, working in Maine, Indiana, and New York City before being sent by the Associated Press to the Middle East where she was news editor for five years, including the period of the first intifada. She then moved to Moscow where she worked for five years during the collapse of Communism, reporting for the Los Angeles Times and NBC-Mutual Radio and writing a monthly column, "Postcards from Moscow." She also reported from Kenya in 2006, and from Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008.

A Brown University graduate, Hamilton has been awarded fiction fellowships from Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She has taught for Gotham Writers Workshop and the 92nd Street Y in New York City and at a number of writers' workshops around the country. She has also taught in Afghanistan at Kabul University.

She is currently the director of communications and public diplomacy for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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Read an Excerpt


In the narrow strand of space between the first piece of information and all the rest, thoughts rushed through Clarissa that could not be said aloud, not then, probably not ever. They came like the violent Nor’easters she’d known as a child in Maine, appearing without warning as she’d disconnected the phone for the third time in quick succession.
How could he have let this happen?
The initial call came from a reporter, and Clarissa hung up mid-sentence, telling herself there’d been a mistake.
He’d tricked her, Todd had. Tricked her into trusting him, even though she knew life was delicate beyond belief, and humans were flimsy, including those who seemed invincible.
The second call came from Bill Snyder, who opened by barely speaking at all, as if to prolong her last moments of unknowing, and then began carefully, each word padded by pauses, each phrase couched in ambiguity. She hung up on him also, but with less confidence.
Everything one counted on could vanish in a second; she’d understood that since childhood. A new narration wiping out personal history without a whisper of remorse. That’s why, at base, she’d never married before. Been too smart for marriage.
The final call came from a baldly definitive FBI agent, speaking in a clipped but almost tender tone as she thought in stunned amazement, “The FBI, how odd is this?” She had no memory of hanging up on him, only of noticing at one point that she no longer pressed the receiver to her ear.
Why had she let herself willfully block out this transiency, fall in love, remake the boundaries of her life, and then redefine what it meant to trust the world? Because even as she’d worried aloud, she’d secretly relied on the conviction that he would stay safe. He’d had a plan and she’d become a late believer in the power of planning. She’d trusted their future as much as the fact that ice was cold and fires were hot and letters arranged on a page would remain readable.
And she’d known better. That much trust was too much.
The mind is a labyrinth capable of holding at once the ocean, the sky and everything in between, of carrying on four simultaneous conversations, most of them internal, of dismissing one memory even as it accesses another in detail and creates a third.
Didn’t people in situations like this say, “at least he was doing what he loved”? Wasn’t that a ridiculous thing to say?
These thoughts pushed their way up from the floor of her mind, edging aside other, more critical judgments and understandings and misunderstandings.
humans are delicate so keep it safe humans are impermanent so take the risks humans are transient so soak in the details humans are temporary so think big humans are breakable so be diligent humans are ephemeral so be carefree humans are fragile so
Thoughts came that she would register unconsciously and quickly forget, but would recall—some of them, at least—much later, in her revised world, as pieces of her future settled into new patterns of fleetingness.
What do we do now? What do I do now?
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