Monday, April 11, 2016

Interview with Nadia Hashimi on her book "When The Moon Is Low"


When the Moon Is Low was one of the first books that I read this year, and even though many months have passed, this book stuck with me - it got under my skin and it made me think deeply about the state of affairs in our world. - namely, the plight of refugees around the globe. My own Russian grandmother was a refugee, but she died before I was born so I never got to hear first-hand about her experience, although I have certainly heard some of the horrors which have trickled down to my generation. Every day, when I turn on the BBC news it is something about the Syrian refugee crisis. In recent months, our own province has accepted Syrian refugees, although not hardly enough as millions of refugees flood into Europe every day. Before that, it was Afghanistan - which is where Nadia's novel begins.

Nadia's novel is brilliant and so relevant. The novel weaves back and forth between the narration of the mother and the son, as they face a harrowing journey as a family with young children, and no money, jobs, or father figure to offer them protection. The novel documents the fall of Afghanistan and the difficult decision it took to leave their homeland (and family) forever behind. They come across many dangerous characters across the way, but they also rely on the help of a lot of good Samaritans, which gives them hope to keep pushing forth. Many times during the course of reading this novel, I just wept. To be a parent of young children and to come to the realization that your homeland is too dangerous to live in...is a heartbreaking situation. This novel reminds us that this story could happen to any of us, no matter where we live, or how fortunate our lives are. It also reminds us that we need to help others, because we might just be the only hope they've got.

Since this book touched my heart so very deeply, I reached out to Nadia and asked if she wouldn't mind doing a little interview for my blog. Not only is Nadia a talented storyteller and a bestselling author, she is a truly wonderful and gracious person. I am absolutely thrilled to introduce you to Nadia and her book!


I read that you are a pediatrician by profession. When did you start seriously writing? Or were you always a writer?
Nadia: I didn’t start writing until 2009, a year after I’d completed my pediatric training. The long hours of residency did not leave much time for exploring outside passions like writing. My husband knew that I had a love for the written word and encouraged me to give it a go. I’m so glad he did! I can’t imagine what my life would be without this happy adjunct to my chosen career.

How did the idea for this novel come into fruition? When did it begin?
Nadia: So many of my family members fled Afghanistan over the years of war. The exodus began in the early 1970s and has continued since, with family members fleeing to any country that will offer safe haven or opportunity. I’ve always had the idea to write about the hardship of leaving one’s homeland under duress. I came across a news article in 2009 that noted the many young Afghan refugees lingering in Greece who were asked to return to Afghanistan. They had neither the means nor the desire to do so, having spent all their savings on traffickers to get them to a safe country where they might find work and stability. I began to imagine a life for one of those young individuals and Saleem’s story was what came of exploring those circumstances.

Are any of the characters based on real people?
Nadia: The characters are not based on real people but their stories are based on the realities being faced by so many individuals from Afghanistan, Syria and the many other countries that feel too hazardous to continue to call home.

I read that both your parents are from Afghanistan - in what way did that influence your novel(s)?
Nadia: Both my parents were born and raised in Afghanistan. Living in the United States, I was raised with an acute awareness of the happenings in Afghanistan, both politically and socially. The unrest and destruction of the past thirty years has devastated the nation and resulted in many ongoing crises: opium addiction, poverty, illiteracy, excessive infant and maternal mortality. I wanted to write about something that I found compelling and worthy of conversation. These are the issues I tackle in my novels.

What are the conditions like in Afghanistan now, after the war?
Nadia: Afghanistan’s been in a recovery and rebuilding phase since 2011. Though there is ongoing violence, much progress has been made. Schools have been reopened, hospitals have been erected or remodeled, girls are pursuing higher education, television programming has blossomed and businesses have expanded to meet the needs of the Afghan population. The cities are bustling as they are the epicenters of reconstruction.

One of the most heartbreaking themes in this novel was witnessing one's own homeland become too dangerous to live in and having to make the difficult decision to flee. Fereiba ultimately has no choice but to flee after her husband is viciously murdered. How difficult do you think it is for people to come to the realization that "there is no future in my homeland"? Do you think many people come to this decision too late?
Nadia: There’s the old myth that tells us a frog will leap out of boiling water but if a frog is placed in water that is slowly brought to a boil, he will not leap out of it. Though it’s only a myth and not scientifically valid, it’s still an apt metaphor for the actions of people who live in those countries where civil unrest starts off as protests, then small clashes between governments and dissidents. Without a major catastrophic event, people may feel like they can “wait it out.” There’s never a perfect time to flee one’s homeland because the destination is a big unknown and the journey is perilous.

In the news, there is so much hatred and fear for refugees and people who are seeking asylum, when they are just ordinary people who have done nothing wrong. People judge refugees, and many people don't want refugees to settle in their country. In the book you say, “It's never easy to leave one's home, especially when there are only closed doors ahead of you.” What do you want your readers to understand about refugees by reading your book?
Nadia: I want people to understand that a refugee is not just a refugee. He or she may be a refugeed student, physician, engineer or shopkeeper. These are not one-dimensional people. Refugees are humans with aspirations, hopes for their children and a desire to live in peace. We should see them as people in, hopefully, temporary crisis. The refugee label need not be seen as a terminal diagnosis. Refugees are very capable of resurrecting themselves. I personally know plenty of refugees who are now practicing physicians, lawyers, administrative assistants and more – productive members of a healthy and diverse societies.

As I was reading this novel, during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, I noticed so many similarities between what Afghan refugees have faced (depicted in your novel) and what Syrians are currently facing. Oftentimes while reading, I forgot it was Afghan family - because it could have so easily been a Syrian family. Do you think the struggles that refugees face are somewhat universal?
Nadia: The similarities go well beyond Afghans and Syrians to include a host of other nationalities who are now landing on Europe’s shores seeking safe haven. There are so many struggles common to people leaving a homeland in crisis. The best thing we can do is to see the commonalities between nationalities.

In the novel, Fereiba's family is helped so much by the kindness of strangers that lifts them up with hope to the next leg of the journey. How is the kindness of strangers important - especially to people who have nothing?
Nadia: When I wrote this story (in 2009) and described humanitarian volunteers at every turn, it felt a bit generous and optimistic. Since then, I have watched the disheartening expansion of the refugee crisis but have been reassured to see that there is an outpouring of assistance. It is by no means enough but it is proof that humanity rises up in catastrophic conditions and that we are not all willing to watch our fellow humans flounder when war has ripped them from their homes. The kindness of strangers can mean the difference between life and death or it can mean the difference between hope and despair.

How can the average person help refugees in their area?
Nadia: This is a great question. The obvious way to help is to donate to an organization assisting refugees but there are lots of other ways to assist. Advocate for refugee aid and resettlement with your local representatives by writing letters or making phone calls. If refugees are resettling into your neighborhood, volunteer to teach ESL classes or driving lessons. Smile and wave and ask them where they’ve come from or what their lives were like in their homelands. You may be surprised at what you learn. Many refugees are highly educated and the transition can be demoralizing. Talking helps. The more these individuals feel welcomed and integrated into the local society, the better off everyone will be.

As a mother myself, it was touching to read Fereiba's immense bravery when it came to trying to find a way out for her children and their futures, against all odds. Her strength is remarkable and empowering to read. Your last novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell also featured a strong female narrator. What about a strong woman appeals to you? Why is important to write about women? Especially Afghan women?
Nadia: I write about strong female characters because that’s what I see in my family, my friends, and in the world around me. The women of Afghanistan have demonstrated a resilience and determination that is quite remarkable. They are not in need of saviors. They need only our support. They are doing the hard work themselves to regain their status as equal citizens of Afghanistan, even when their lives are threatened for it. Strong women have inspired me and I hope that my characters will be an inspiration to others.

   The emotions in this novel were through the roof! I often had to stop and pause the novel to keep myself from crying my eyes out. You capture emotions so brilliantly and realistically. How on Earth do you do that?
Nadia: This makes me so happy to hear because I really wanted readers to connect with the characters emotionally. I do my best to put myself in the shoes of each of my characters and think of what it must feel like to depend so heavily on your adolescent son, to have one’s father ripped from the home one night, or to wonder if one’s mother is making the right life-changing decisions. It’s important for me to listen to my characters so that I can do their emotions justice.

I read that you are also a mother to 4 children - how do you find the time to write? You must be an incredibly busy person!
Nadia: I’ve been blessed with four absolutely incredible children. They light up my mornings, make me laugh even in their mischief, and inspire me to write stories that will hopefully do some good in this world. They do keep me busy but life is full of challenges. I make schedules for myself so that I write while my eldest two are in school and while my younger two are with a caregiver. Other times, I write after I’ve tucked everyone into their beds. We all juggle life and work. This is my juggle and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

This is your second novel. What advice do you have for aspiring writers who are just starting out?
Nadia: Find a story that absolutely must be told. Make writing a priority. Write without fear or inhibitions. Set goals. Get feedback from others. Read. Believe that it can be done.

What's next for you? What projects are you working on right now?
Nadia: I’m happy to have a third novel releasing this August called A House Without Windows. Zeba’s husband is found with a hatchet to the back of his head. With his blood on her hands, fingers point to her as the murderess. She’s thrown into one of Afghanistan’s prisons for women where she meets women jailed for various crimes of immorality or crimes of love. Her public defender is a US trained lawyer and her mother is a jadugar, a woman skilled in black magic. The two of them struggle to find ways to free Zeba and return her to her children.

I also have a middle grade novel releasing this fall, One Half from the East. It features a young girl, Obayda, whose father is maimed in a bombing. Her mother decides to dress Obayda as a boy so that her father’s spirits may be lifted at finally having a son, even if it is nothing but a ruse. Obayda, relishing the freedom and strength she feels as a boy, seeks out ways to make the change lasting instead of temporary. I’m particularly excited about this as it will give me the opportunity to talk about the true potential of girls with a younger audience.

I’m currently wrapping up my second middle grade novel – a story about a young boy struggling with a very special kind of seizures. After that, I’ll be tackling my next adult novel but you’ll have to stay tuned for details on that one.

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A huge thank you to Nadia Hashimi for sharing her amazing book with our readers. For more information on Nadia and her book, click HERE. And don't forget to follow her on Facebook and Goodreads!

Click HERE to purchase this book on Amazon.


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2 comments

  1. I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini some years ago. I haven't read about Afghan women since, so I think I'm going to try this one. I love your book recommendations, and the author interviews. Thank you for them :-)

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  2. What an interesting interview. I have to read to read her books!

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