Book review: ‘Sparks Like Stars’ by Madia Hashimi


“Sparks like Stars” is a work of fiction; it just doesn’t feel like one. Maybe if the country of Afghanistan hadn’t been in the news so much or if the book wasn’t written in first person, or …. What the book is guaranteed to do, besides entertain, is move the reader to take a good look at a map and to realize that the Afghans are real people in a real country, caught up in political and social mess.

As the story opens, Sitara Zamani is a 10-year-old daughter of the chief adviser to Sadar Daoud, Afghanistan’s president. Though it was not her home, she had the run of the castle, and Daoud’s two children were her close friends. That all changed when the communists staged a coup and assassinated everyone but her. And her survival is only because Shair, a guard, smuggled her out of the castle.

Shair put himself and his family in grave danger with his decision to save the girl. Taking a further risk, he took Sitara to a female American diplomat. At the time of her arrival, the diplomat’s mother, Tilly, was visiting. Tilly and her friends managed to smuggle Sitara to Pakistan, where the diplomat, Nia, managed to arrange for her to travel to America. This was made possible, in part, because Sitara’s sister, Adriana, had been born in America and thus had American citizenship. Sitara became Adriana.

Nia Sheppard put her diplomatic career on hold and adopted Adriana. Sitara/Adriana learned to call Nia “Mom” without forgetting the tragedy of her family or her country of origin. She also learned to be an American and became a surgeon. Adriana managed to become a respected cancer surgeon, but always the happenings in Kabul remained with her. Had Shair, who had saved her, also been the one who had murdered her parents? Because he had originally been on Daud’s staff, Adriana knew him; why had he turned against them? These were questions that she believed she would never find answers to. And then there he was, in her clinic, a cancer patient.

To get the full story, it is necessary to read the book. What follows are some quotes to give you a taste of the author’s writing.

• As a cancer surgeon, “Those discussions are like handing someone a ball of brown clay and telling them they are free to shape it to their liking …. Eventually everyone realizes the clay is actually a ball of excrement that will never turn into something they want to hold in their hands.”

 • “Finding the right words is like plucking wildflowers from a tangled bush.”

• “The operating room is a theater sanitized of microbes and emotions.”

 • “Necessity isn’t just the mother of invention. She’s the mother of faith too.”

• “Lanterns hang from the ceiling and cast light as soothing as birdsong.”

• “Sparks rain from my sighs like stars.”

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