Words in the Dust
By Trent Reedy
Realistic fiction – 288 pages of interest to 6th through 9th grade readers
Do you wonder what it would be like to live in another country? Do you wonder as you’re reading, “Is this real? Is this now?” I do. I try to imagine how vastly different my life would be if I lived somewhere else in the world. I often choose to read sets of books that have a similar setting as a way understand as much as I can about a country and its culture – Vietnam, Somalia, India, and Afghanistan have been the settings of recent collections. Even though I have read many books about a place – I wonder, “Is this real? Is it now?”
I am sure of the truth in the story behind Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. The author was stationed in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005 as part of the peace keeping troops working build schools and provide opportunities for the people in and around Farah. The story was inspired by actual people and events the author witnessed.
Zulaikha reaches out to trace the few letters she can remember on the dusty floor beside her pallet. She rises to begin her day and we are transported into her life – a life that begins to change the moment we meet her. Zulaikha has a cleft lip with teeth that jut through the split. Despite her deformity she has hopes and dreams – she wants to learn and become more than the “donkey face” she called. American soldiers arrive and promise her corrective surgery. She begins to dream of the beautiful life she and her sister have always imagined. But when her beloved sister’s arranged marriage leads to a horrible tragedy, Zulaikha must choose for herself the future she knows is right.
Throughout the novel readers come to understand the strong ties and relationships in Zulaikha’s family. Through recurring tragedy and pain, Zulaikha, ever courageous and hopeful, faces her challenges and the cultural changes that are coming to Afghanistan. The author’s inclusion of cultural customs, moments in history and the exploration of beautiful Afghan poetry are the added details that brings the culture and country to life – adding beauty to the stark reality of living.
This is an amazing story that will stay with you for a long time. One scene dealing with burning and loss makes this appropriate for mature readers. Please read it. It a beautiful book.