“In her indelible first novel, Busfield, a British journalist who has lived in Afghanistan, describes post- Taliban Kabul from the viewpoint of precocious, 11-year-old Fawad.... Poetic, bawdy, hilarious, and achingly wise, Busfield's debut is a love story many times over: between a man and a woman, the author and Afghanistan, and an irrepressible boy and the wild world at large.” Gillian Engberg, Booklist (starred review)
“In her debut novel [Busfield] does a bang-up job of channeling an 11-year-old boy named Fawad. Born Under a Million Shadows is set in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. Fawad's father and brother have been killed and his sister kidnapped by the Taliban.... Fawadever resourceful and not above a little chicanerymakes small change by stealing from the foreigners who have flooded the city. Things might be tough for Fawad, but he's filled with an impish optimism. . . . There's much love in this gentle, buoyant tale romantic and otherwise. And to experience it through the eyes of a beguiling, mischievous little boy is sheer joy.” Donna Marchetti, Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Andrea Busfield's lyrical novel, Born Under a Million Shadows, chronicles the life of an impish 11-year-old boy in Kabul.” Marie Claire
“Readers who like to explore other cultures and current events through fiction will find here an intriguing picture of contemporary Afghanistan.” Library Journal
“Fawad's observations and concerns about his new experiences living with English-speaking, godless foreigners are told with humor and heartbreak. One of his primary concerns is the poignant love story involving his beloved British landlady and wealthy, yet dangerous Afghan Haji Khan. Busfield tells this story through the eyes of a child, reflecting the optimism and humanity of the resilient people she encountered while she lived in Kabul, a refreshing viewpoint not conveyed in other contemporary novels about Afghanistan.” School Library Journal
“From the first page, this beautifully told tale will capture the reader's heart and imagination.... Powerful and moving.” The Sun (UK)
“Beautifully written, touching and laced throughout with humor.... A stunningly assured debut novel from a writer who looks set to be a big star.” The News of the World (UK)
Former journalist Busfield first traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 to cover the fall of the Taliban. Her first novel presents the aftermath of that event through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. Fawad has experienced grief during his short life: his father and brother have been killed, his sister has been abducted, and he and his mother are living as little better than servants in the home of his mother's sister. Things start looking up when Fawad's mother, Mariya, gets a position as housekeeper for a British woman, who lives with two other Westerners. Unfortunately, Fawad's voice doesn't quite ring true, with Fawad sometimes seeming far younger than he is and sometimes seeming to possess an adult comprehension of events well beyond that of the adults themselves. In addition, his resilience and ability to let go of learned prejudices (one of the Westerners is a lesbian, something that initially troubles him but that he quickly accepts) seem unrealistically utopian. Busfield might have been able to tell the story more convincingly had one of the women narrated. VERDICT This novel is certainly no Kite Runner, but readers who like to explore other cultures and current events through fiction will find here an intriguing picture of contemporary Afghanistan. Extras for book clubs are appended.—Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll.
Adult/High School—Fawad, an 11-year-old Muslim Afghan boy, was born under the shadow of the Taliban, according to his mother, but he remains an optimist despite the lingering tragedy in his life. He and his mother are struggling to survive after his father and brother are killed and his sister is abducted by the Taliban. Their lives change dramatically when Fawad's mother is hired to work in a house with three Westerners in an affluent suburb of Kabul. Streetwise Fawad no longer has to beg and steal with his friends and grows more responsible and mature after accepting an after-school job in a shop with a wisecracking blind man he befriends. Fawad's observations and concerns about his new experiences living with English-speaking, godless foreigners are told with humor and heartbreak. One of his primary concerns is the poignant love story involving his beloved British landlady and wealthy, yet dangerous Afghan Haji Khan. Busfield tells this story through the eyes of a child, reflecting the optimism and humanity of the resilient people she encountered while she lived in Kabul, a refreshing viewpoint not conveyed in other contemporary novels about Afghanistan.—Melanie Parsons, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Life in post-liberation Kabul, as observed by a streetwise Afghan boy with active hormones. British journalist Busfield's debut takes a lightweight, often jaunty look at Afghan society through the eyes of a child whose family was destroyed by the Taliban. Fawad's father and brother died fighting with the Northern Alliance, and his sister Mina was abducted. After a miserable period living with relatives, Fawad's mother finds work as housekeeper for three Westerners, Georgie, James and May. Living under their roof offers the boy an insight into foreign ways and the author an opportunity to deliver lessons in cultural contrast. The story develops into a series of social episodes, often centered around romance. Fawad develops a strong affection for Georgie and is drawn into her problematic love affair with Haji Khan, a powerful, wealthy and handsome Afghan. Fawad's mother finds a new suitor, and there are love interests too for James and May. The death of one of Fawad's friend in a bombing temporarily darkens the mood, but Busfield's preference for fairy-tale, comic and soap-opera developments means that happy endings can be expected. A derivative title that invites comparison with Khaled Hosseini, but this self-consciously charming coming-of-age story can't match A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) for emotional engagement, resonance or authenticity.