Novel Approach: ‘Sparks Like Stars’ offers haunting portrayal of grief

“You never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it's reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again.” —Sarah Dessen

Death is a common occurrence. We all die, we all lose loved ones and we all mourn. Death is probably one of the most human experiences people have, it is one of the few universal elements of life. However, the manner in which we are exposed to death comes in a myriad of forms; violently, peacefully, swiftly or slowly. Our latest read takes us to Afghanistan, where death marks the catalyst in a child’s life.

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

In her latest novel, Nadia Hashimi spins a haunting tale of a young girl’s flight from her homeland to find safety in a strange and foreign place. “Sparks Like Stars” tells the heartbreaking story of Sitara, the daughter of one of Afghanistan’s presidential advisors during the 70’s. Sitara and her family are staying at the presidential palace when Sitara’s life is shattered by a coup.

Sitara’s life is one shaped by flight and tragedy as she finds herself handed off to strangers in the hopes that they can help her flee a country that no longer wants her. From here Sitara’s life ceases to be her own and the child has to bury her old self alongside the memories of her family to survive in her new life.

As an adult and respected doctor, Sitara (now known as Aryana) is able to the brunt of her childhood trauma tucked away in the back of her mind, but when a ghost from her past appears before her as a patient Sitara finds herself longing not only for her homeland, but for answers about her past. When she learns that Afghanistan’s government is beginning to look for the remains of those killed in the coup, Sitara sets out to find her family in the hopes of gaining closure.

Hashimi write’s Sitara’s story with a poignant grace as readers travel with her as a young girl through the trauma of loss and relocation to her adult self, who struggles to heal from her grief and survivor’s guilt. As a child her life is altered by death and as an adult, she works to prolong life as an oncologist. Throughout the story Hashimi weaves in details about the political climate in Afghanistan and how those politics have had an impact on Sitara’s life. While Sitara’s story is wrought with heartbreak, hope grows up through the cracks in her sorrow as she heals from her trauma.

From the book jacket…

Kabul, 1978: The daughter of a prominent family, Sitara Zamani lives a privileged life in Afghanistan’s thriving cosmopolitan capital. The 1970s are a time of remarkable promise under the leadership of people like Sardar Daoud, Afghanistan’s progressive president, and Sitara’s beloved father, his right-hand man. But the ten-year-old Sitara’s world is shattered when communists stage a coup, assassinating the president and Sitara’s entire family. Only she survives.

Smuggled out of the palace by a guard named Shair, Sitara finds her way to the home of a female American diplomat, who adopts her and raises her in America. In her new country, Sitara takes on a new name—Aryana Shepherd—and throws herself into her studies, eventually becoming a renowned surgeon. A survivor, Aryana has refused to look back, choosing instead to bury the trauma and devastating loss she endured.

New York, 2008: Forty years after that fatal night in Kabul, Aryana’s world is rocked again when an elderly patient appears in her examination room—a man she never expected to see again. It is Shair, the soldier who saved her, yet may have murdered her entire family. Seeing him awakens Aryana’s fury and desire for answers—and, perhaps, revenge. Realizing that she cannot go on without finding the truth, Aryana embarks on a quest that takes her back to Kabul—a battleground between the corrupt government and the fundamentalist Taliban—and through shadowy memories of the world she loved and lost.

If you enjoy…

Readers who find themselves interested in stories about Afghanistan might also enjoy Khaled Hosseni’s gorgeous tale about two women whose lives become intertwined by the conflict in Afghanistan.