My Summary: In 2001, Fadi’s family flees the Taliban and emigrates to San Francisco from Afghanistan. However, his little sister Mariam is accidentally left behind. As Fadi attempts to adjust to his new life in the U.S., he struggles with not only prejudice from peers fueled by the 9/11 attacks but also his guilt for his role in Mariam getting lost. Hope for rescuing Mariam arrives in the form of a photography contest where the grand prize is a trip to India. Despite the obstacles he faces, Fadi develops a new hobby, makes friends, and strives to win the photography contest.
Shooting Kabul is a good book in many ways. From the characters, to the handling of complex political situations, to the themes–all of these things make this book memorable.
For most Americans, especially white Americans, the Taliban and Islam are far removed from their personal experiences. What little they know is filtered through biased media and outright misinformation peddled by hatemongers and those who stand to benefit from the conflicts and wars the U.S. wages abroad. The choice of an young Afghan American refugee as a main character serves to remove that emotional distance, rendering the political personal.
For Fadi, the Taliban is not just a news item, they are something that has direct ties to and influence on his family. The Taliban are the reason they have fled Afghanistan. His family’s history with the Taliban illustrates the way the group evolved from being the heroes of Afghanistan against foreign invasion to the oppressive rulers, defying the oversimplified narrative of Taliban=evil.
By setting the story in late 2001, the author is able to explore the repercussions of 9/11 on Muslim Americans. The victims of 9/11 aren’t just those who died in the attacks, but also the people who have faced backlash due to racism and Islamophobia. As we see from Fadi’s bullies, children are impressionable and will internalize the prejudices of their environment and perpetuate it. That’s why this book is so important: because it teaches empathy.
Although Fadi faces bullies, he also makes friends and allies at school. Most notable among these are Anh, a Vietnamese American classmate who convinces him to join the photography club, and Ms. Bethune, his Black art class teacher and the sponsor for the photography club. They help him out and encourage his creativity. (POC friendships are the best.)
In various ways, the book highlights the diversity of San Francisco. From Fadi’s classmates and teacher to the urban landscape of the city, readers get the impression of the mosaic of peoples and cultures that populate Fadi’s world.
One of the things I really loved about the book was the detailed descriptions of photography. The author deftly portrays the labor and the artistry in the process of producing a photograph, from the planning of the shot to the making of a photo print. It really gives you a deeper appreciation for the art. I learned a lot about photography from reading this book.
Although Fadi faces unexpected setbacks, he ultimately gets a happy ending. The ending left me with a sense of hope, and the reassurance that sometimes when one door closes, another opens.
Recommendation: This is great book about family, friendship and perseverance. Though it’s a middle grade novel, I think anyone can read it and enjoy it.