Book review: ‘The Other Side Of The Sky’
Special to the Daily
Occasionally, a book comes along that reminds us of how fortunate we are as a nation, where a relatively comfortable lifestyle is shared by most. Though there are highs and lows on that scale of comfort, and there are pockets of citizens at both extremes, with the super-wealthy (the much reviled 1 percent) at the top, and a larger sub-group of needy Americans at the other end, it is safe to say that our country is exceedingly prosperous and admired by many for its riches. But, books like “The Other Side Of The Sky,” the moving memoir by Farah Ahmedi, contribute to a broadened perspective on what it really means to suffer and to be resilient.
One only has to look as far as the TV news to see the terrifying reality for so many thousands who have suffered from the decades of violence in the Middle East. Syria is only the latest in a long list of nations that have experienced the crippling savagery of ongoing war and the effects of extremist ideologies. To most Westerners, the faces of the wounded and frantic refugees blur into a few powerful symbolic images — like the still form of a toddler in the surf on a beach. Rarely, though, as the suffering is so widespread, is the impact distilled down to the details of one story of one girl. “The Other Side Of The Sky” is a remarkable account of one such girl, whose life is made profoundly real and inspiring through her own telling.
Written in simple, straight-forward language, Ahmedi’s story reveals the starkness and the harsh realities of the lives of so many in war-torn countries around the world. In Ahmedi’s case, her descent into hell began with the blinding flash and the numbing aftermath of a land mine, which tore her from her relatively happy childhood in Afghanistan. Her family, safe and comfortable behind their compound walls, were ignorant of the violence being played out in the hills around Kabul as warring factions vied for pieces of their country left in shatters after the Soviets withdrew. Ahmedi’s father was a successful tailor, and a leading manufacturer of clothing in the Kabul area. Still, her generation had known nothing but war, having been born at the height of the conflict with the U.S.S.R.
As with most females in Afghanistan, Ahmedi’s world was small, existing within a bubble that rarely extended beyond the gates of her house. Thus, the day she started school was a momentous one for her, and it offered one of the only glimpses of the world beyond her door. It was because she loved school so much, and because she was so eager to arrive there each day, that she chose a shortcut one morning.
It was the morning her life would change.
No ambulances came, only strangers who stared down at the small girl lying in a shallow crater that was quickly filling with a pool of her own blood. That land mine claimed her leg, and her innocence. It also opened her eyes to the suffering of her country, and also to the world beyond its borders.
She was sent to Germany, alone, as part of a medical rescue mission funded by an aid agency. It was there, as she marveled at the clean hospital with its loving and attentive staff, that she discovered that the whole world was not suffering like Afghanistan. Nonetheless, in spite of the excellent medical care, she spent nearly two years there, being lonely, unable to understand those around her, and longing for her parents and her siblings.
What she did not miss was her country. Having stepped away from a world she had assumed was normal, she now looked back upon her homeland as a forsaken place, a battered country that she would soon be gazing upon with new eyes.
Upon her return, sporting a sleek prosthetic leg, she struggled to assimilate, and her family treated her delicately, unsure of this westernized child in their midst. She knew that those around her viewed her with pity, which she abhorred. “If less was expected of me, less was thought of me.” She wanted to be able to claim back the confidence she had found in Germany.
And, though she had grown up with the background noise of gunfire, she was no longer used to it, especially since a new menace was laying claim to larger swaths of her country. The Taliban became the latest threat, creeping slowly northward, and finally into Kabul, where the residents struggled to adjust to this newest version of overlord.
After years of dominance it became apparent that the Taliban were different, more invasive and more dangerous. They began to demand that families turn over their boys for fighting, and ethnic minorities, like Ahmedi’s family, were simply not safe.
Ahmedi’s life took another terrible turn as bombs claimed lives, sending Ahmedi and her mother into a dash for survival. It is here where readers can best imagine a correlation with daily scenes on their TV news, with long lines of desperate refugees seeking any way to escape the strangling hold of the extremists holding claim to their countries.
Ahmedi’s account of their eventual escape to the West shows her as a girl with remarkable maturity for her age; she had no choice but to become the head of the household when her mother sank into a shocked stupor as the result of her grief and ill-health.
It is this maturity and her strong sense of self that comes through the most clearly in Ahmedi’s book, and her determination to keep striving for a better life is inspiring. That a child can find goodness and hope after so much heartache and pain, is remarkable. Farah Ahmedi represents a true daughter of peace, a worthy symbol for all people of the world simply striving for a better life away from war and bloodshed.
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