Words in the Dust is a powerful novel centering around a young Afghani girl names Zulaiyka. The story derives its power from the genuineness of Zulaiyka’s voice as she relates the events in her daily life and her feelings about them. This was one of those books that, once I finished reading it, I needed to be alone and sit with my thoughts about it for a while.
I think I am not unlike most Americans in that I don’t know a great deal about the Afghan people, their country or their daily lives. The fact that the only news I see in the media about Afghanistan relates to war and killing has always left me with a vague feeling of fear in relation to the country and what it must be like to live there.
Trent Reedy had a similar impression before he was deployed there in 2004. In his Author’s Notes at the end of the book he talks about that attitude and how it quickly changed when he was with the Afghan people. He discovered what I think we all discover when we move from generalities and stereotypes to human contact: as people we are different in many ways and at the same time often so much alike in our hearts.
Zulaiyka’s life is different from any in my experience but her love for her family, her sorrow when she thinks of those she has lost, her fear of strangers speaking in an unfamiliar language and carrying guns I instantly understand and feel with her as she describes it. There were moments that made my heart soar and moments where I felt it was sobbing. In the end, Words in the Dust IS Zulaiyka’s story, the one Trent Reedy promised himself he would tell because she deserved to have people everywhere know of it. It is a story of love and strength of character, of growth and change and all the terror that goes hand in hand with the courage it takes to make those changes. It is the story of the transformative power of language and poetry. It is the story of each individual’s inner need to live a life of respect, belonging and purpose and how those who do will always change the world for the better in both big and small ways.
Zulaiyka, her father, her brothers and sisters, her step-mother…they all open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to each other through this brilliant story. It is an amazing read. I will caution parents that there are many events in the story that require more mature understanding–due to some of the differences in cultural attitudes particularly toward marriage and women between American and Afghani society–and should be read with a parent or trusted adult in order to discuss questions and avoid misperceptions.
Words in the Dust is a remarkable work that has left me changed as a person. I am grateful for a fresh and wondrous vision of the Afghani people and how that might be a part of my view of the world and its people. A courageous and inspiring story for a courageous and loving reader.