cover image Under the Persimmon Tree

Under the Persimmon Tree

Suzanne Fisher Staples, . . FSG/Foster, $17 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-374-38025-0

Having already shown a profound understanding of Middle-Eastern culture in books such as Shabanu and Shiva's Fire , Staples offers readers a new level of insight in this timely portrayal of Afghanistan in the months following September 11. Here, the author alternately expresses the views of two survivors: young Najmah, a villager living in the Kunduz Hills, and Nusrat, the American wife of an Afghan doctor. After her mother and newborn brother are killed by a bomb, Najmah travels with neighbors headed for the Pakistan border. Disguised as a boy, Najmah endures a harrowing journey to the edge of Afghanistan, where she parts from her companions to cross the border on her own, determined to find her father and older brother, who have been conscripted by the Taliban army. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Nusrat anxiously awaits news of her husband, who left home to run a clinic for war victims. The paths of the two protagonists cross when Najmah is brought to Nusrat's school for refugees (which is held under a persimmon tree). Sharing a deep sense of loss, anxiety for their loved ones' safety and a passionate interest in the stars, Najmah and Nusrat give each other strength to face an uncertain future. The author fills in tangible details of day-to-day life in a strife-ridden land. While avoiding political commentary, Staples powerfully and honestly expresses the plight of a civilization caught between terrorists and American bombs. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)