Shooting Kabul Summary

N. H. Senzai

Shooting Kabul

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Shooting Kabul Summary

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Almost a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks, N.H. Senzai used those events as part of the backdrop for her 2010 children’s novel Shooting Kabul. The story follows a family from Afghanistan that comes to America to escape the Taliban. A member of the family is separated from the others as they are getting ready to board a truck that will begin the first step of their journey to a safe area in Pakistan. A follow up/companion book titled Saving Kabul Corner was released in 2014.

Fadi is a boy of twelve in the summer of 2001 when his parents Habib and Zafoona decide to flee Afghanistan with him and his sisters, Noor and Mariam. Their goal is to find a safe haven in the United States and create a new life for the family. The first leg of their quest for freedom is to leave their hometown, Kabul, and cross the border by truck to the city of Jalalabad in Pakistan. Unfortunately, things go awry quickly when six-year-old Mariam is accidentally left behind amid the confusion as the family is preparing to take its leave. Taliban soldiers are approaching and the truck, illegally transporting the refugees, is unable to wait. Mariam’s parents and siblings get to America but cannot focus on rebuilding their lives until they can determine what became of Miriam and reunite with her.

Fadi finds life in America to be difficult to adjust to. It is hard for him to make friends at school. Adding to his discomfort is the fact that, because his family is just starting to establish itself in the country, there are financial difficulties. Fadi has to use a free lunch program, which to him is a cause of embarrassment. After a little while, Fadi is befriended by a girl named Anh. Anh asks Fadi to join the photography club at school with her. There is a competition that all of the club members will be entering that is to take place in San Francisco. There is a fifty dollar fee to be part of the club, but Fadi’s family cannot afford to pay it. Adding to the disappointment of this is that Fadi enjoyed photography as a hobby in his native land. His father had taught him about photography, but Fadi’s ability to pursue what was becoming a passion for him was squelched when photography was banned by the Taliban as it rose to power.

Every member of Fadi’s family is guilt ridden about Mariam being separated from the family and each blames him or herself. Making it all the more frustrating is the fact that no one in the family is able to return to look for her because they cannot afford to pay for a flight back. In small ways, the family does begin to adjust to life in America. Habib gets a job driving a taxi. Fadi’s older sister, Noor, finds a job working at McDonalds. Unable to live with his feelings of guilt, Fadi thinks up a plan to go and look for Mariam. His plan is to find an opportunity to stow away on an airplane to return to Kabul to find his sister, as well reclaiming the honor he feels he has lost. Habib catches him before he can leave for the airport and shows understanding and compassion. Meanwhile, Fadi is able to join the photography club when he tells Noor that the first place prize in the competition will include plane tickets to India; she gives him the fifty dollars to join.

Through no fault of its own, the family’s life becomes much more difficult. They are all shocked by the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the deaths that come in the wake of the events of that day. Many others around them, however, believe that all Muslims are terrorists and supporters of those behind the attacks. At school, Fadi is bullied by others because of his being of the Muslim faith. Believing it to be the only way to ever find his sister, Mariam, Fadi focuses solely on winning the photography contest. The tidy happy ending that winning could have provided does not happen; Fadi is disheartened when he receives only an honorable mention in the contest. One of the judges of the competition takes a special interest in Fadi’s entry because the judge is particularly interested in the photography of war zones. The judge offers to share some of his recent photographs with Fadi. The pictures were taken at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in one of them, Fadi recognizes Mariam playing with some other children in a refugee camp. With the judge’s assistance, the family is able to locate Mariam and have her reunited with them in San Francisco.

Publishers Weekly praised Shooting Kabul saying, “Senzai skillfully focuses Fadi’s guilt against the backdrop of his grief and his adjustments to life in Fremont, California’s Little Kabul (during 9/11); as Fadi discovers a photography club and contest that might earn him tickets to India, he fantasizes about rescuing his sister. Though cultural, religious, and political pressures persist, the satisfying surprise ending offers the family hope and redemption.”