Powerful, brilliant and captivating. Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples tells the story of two powerful Muslim heroines, one named Star and one named Helper (or one who helps), and it’s a story full of courage, hope, and strength.
In the rural mountains of Afghanistan, Najmah lives a simple but happy life with her parents and elder brother. But when the Taliban takes her father and brother prisoner to fight against the rebel forces, Najmah and her pregnant mother are left alone to look after the farm. Despite the days her mother wouldn’t get out of bed, and her Uncle who is trying to steal their land, Najmah is convinced that they can survive on the farm themselves until her father and brother come back, and is determined to keep going. When Najmah’s brother gives birth to a beautiful baby boy they name Habib, Najmah and her mother are elated. Her newfound happiness is shattered, though, when one day, while Najmah is herding the cattle into the far hills to the fresh grass, there is an air raid strike on her house. Najmah runs back just in time to see her mother point towards the airplanes in the sky before the bombs drop, killing the only family Najmah had left.
Nusrat, née Elaine, was born an American but never felt at home until she converted to Islam and met her husband, Faiz. When they hear of the American bomb attacks on Afghanistan, Nusrat’s natural instinct to help kicks in, and the married couple soon find themselves in Peshawar, Pakistan, Nusrat running a school for poor and orphaned children, and Faiz running an emergency clinic in the town of Mazar-i-Sharif. Nusrat loves her new family of in-laws, and teaching the eager children at the Persimmon Tree School, she finally feels like she belongs. But when the letters from Faiz stop coming, and the Taliban threaten to take her students away from her, Nusrat realizes she will have to keep her faith strong if she wants to keep the hope of her husband’s return.
Under the Persimmon Tree alternates between Najmah and Nusrat, until their individual stories eventually intertwine in a heartbreaking yet beautiful ending. I loved this book because it addresses important and sensitive issues. It discusses Islam and its principles in depth and perpetuates stereotypes the media has helped build. The main characters are strong, well-written, and complex. The plot itself is difficult to read because it isn’t a feel-good story, but it is the truth in all its raw ugliness and the real aspect of the story is what makes Under The Persimmon Tree so special.
Under The Persimmon Tree gets a 9/10. I didn’t enjoy the ending as much as the rest of the book, but it was realistic, and the story itself made a good effort at portraying what life was like during the Afghan War, and what life still is like for many people today.