By: Cynthia Ayala
Fatima Bhutto’s debut novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, first published on March 24, 2015 by Penguin Press chronicles the lives of five young people during the American invasion of Afghanistan. This novel takes readers through a heart-wrenching journey as if follows these five young people as they go about their day, living in the horror around them and seeking a way to survive it in the small town of Mir Ali along the Afghan border.
This novel has been long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and it’s no surprise as to why. As the novel begins, readers are drawn into what they already see on the news. The imagination is a powerful thing and Bhutto uses that to her advantage to recreate a possibly fictional story about the horrors of war. Everything is incredibly vivid but that’s due to the world in which we live in rather than the writing itself. It’s not hard to imagine that what happens to these characters has actually happened, and that will break every readers heart. Bhutto uses some powerful images to grip the reader and put them in the position of the character and that is such an incredibly technique.
This is novel makes any American grateful to have a house, thankful to be a super power that doesn’t have much fear of oppressors. But this novel also takes a hard look at what happens behind the scenes, what is not covered by the news and the horrendous ramifications of actions like invading a third world country. It leaves the reader with a pain in their gut, the pain that these characters feel and unable to turn away from it. And while the progression of the novel and the events take place, the sense of time is lost.
Going back and forth between the characters, readers see their relationships with one another develop and also see what actions have driven them to their final endings, to suffer the pain that they suffer. Small moments within the novel allow the readers a small reprieve from the pain. When they speak up, when they fight back with their words and throw them at their oppressors, while the reader cheers, their hearts break because such a small act of defiance will ultimately be punished.
The novel takes war and shows readers the other side of it, what happens to the innocent people who are caught up in is. It’s one thing to know of it and hypothesize about it but it’s a whole different thing to read about, to see these very real characters suffer so badly.
This is not an easy to read book, based heavily on the emotional impact that it would have on the reader and that is exactly what makes it such a good read. It’s slow and even tedious at times, but once the characters reach their breaking points, there is no way for the reader to pull away. The strength, love and pain forces the reader to read on, so find out just what is going to happen to these characters at the end of the day. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and this novel takes such a simple concept, expanding it to show what war does, what happens to the innocent and what happens when they are pushed to their limits. (★★★★☆ | B+)