What Changes Everythingby Masha Hamilton
What Changes Everything is the story of Clarissa who, in a gamble to save her kidnapped
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. And it is told by a novelist of extraordinary talent who currently works in Afghanistan.
What Changes Everything 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 US authorities and against the wishes of her husband’s grown daughter. It is also the story of Stela, who owns a used bookstore in Ohio and writes letter after letter in hopes both of comprehending the loss of a son on an Afghan battlefield and of connecting with son who abandoned her in anger when his brother died. It is the story of Mandy, the mother of a gravely wounded soldier from Texas, a mother deeply saddened but somehow hopeful who travels to Kabul to heal wounds of several kinds. It is the story of Danil, an angry Brooklyn street artist whose life was derailed by a loss in this incomprehensible war half a world away. And it’s the story of Todd, a career aid
"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."
"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."
“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.”
“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, andperhaps most surprisinglyhumor. 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
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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 recallsome of them, at leastmuch 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?
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 Indie Next 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 fulltime 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 intefadeh. 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.
Masha Hamilton is the Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Destiny is a saddled ass, my daughters; he goes where you lead him, writes Najibullah in the opening line of Masha Hamilton’s latest novel, What Changes Everything. As the Pashto proverb echoes the Old Testament lesson of Balaam and his donkey, so the inter-related stories echo back and forth from Afghanistan to America, a study in relationships, destiny, and the complexity of choices. The book opens and closes with the lyrical (and fictional) letters of the last president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah, during the period of Communist control, where we get a glimpse into the impossible choices he made in serving his country. In between passionate letters he writes to his family, safely settled in India, are the stories of several families impacted by the the war in Afghanistan, and the choices they make to cope with pain, to act with honor, to save their loved ones, and sometimes just to live. It took a few chapters for me to see the relationships between Todd, the American refugee worker in Kabul who is kidnapped while out for his daily ice cream run, and the many other individual dramas. But once the stories began leaking one into another, the fascinating web of inter-connectivity became addictive. I found myself tearing up as Todd’s wife Clarissa, aimlessly roaming the post-midnight streets of NYC, runs into the anguished street artist, Danil, working out the pain of his brother’s death with cans of spray paint on the city’s public walls. Then there’s the unlikely but moving encounter between an American mother and an Afghan hospital administrator in Kabul, their perspectives changed by the viewing of the hospital’s dismal conditions though the other’s eyes. One after another, the intertwining of perspectives takes the reader further into a taste of the complex situation that is the reality of the world’s relationship with Afghanistan today. There are no easy answers, only endless layers of difficult and dangerous decisions to be made. Masha, the founder of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (who will receive $1 of every ebook purchase), has done us all a favor by giving us a glimpse into both the struggles and beautiful culture of Afghanistan while forcing us to ponder the nature of free will.