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Under the Persimmon Tree Hardcover – July 14, 2005

23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8 -When her father and brother are taken by the Taliban and her mother and baby brother are killed in a bombing raid during the Afghan war in October 2001, Najmah begins an arduous journey across the border to Peshawar, Pakistan. There, she meets up with an American woman, Nusrat, who has been conducting a school for refugee children while she waits for her husband, Faiz, who has returned to his native country to open medical clinics. For most of the story, the narration alternates between Najmah and Nusrat, allowing readers to see the war's effect on both of their lives. Only when they meet can they come to terms with their losses and move on. However, readers may feel unsatisfied with the ending. Having cared for the characters and been involved in their lives, they will want to know what happens to them. The use of an American allows the author to provide a clearer description of this unfamiliar world, but because Nusrat is a grown woman, her concerns may be of less interest to readers than those of Najmah, an enterprising and enormously courageous girl. Still, Staples brings the world of the refugee camp to life. Middle grade readers and the adults who teach them will welcome this fascinating glimpse into a world about which far too little has been written.-Kathleen Isaacs, formerly at Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. In the mountains of northern Afghanistan after 9/11, Najmah watches in horror as the brutal Taliban kidnap her father and older brother. Will they ever return home? When her mother and baby brother die in an American air raid, she stops speaking, and, disguised as a boy, makes a perilous journey to a refugee camp in Pakistan. In a parallel narrative, Nusrat (her American name was Elaine), who converted to Islam when she met Faiz in New York, has set up a rough school for the refugees. She has had no news of Faiz, her husband, since he left to establish a clinic in the north. The two stories come together when Najmah and Nusrat meet in the camp, where they wait in anguish for news of the people they love. Staples weaves a lot of history and politics into her story (including information about the Taliban's suppression of women), and she includes a map, a glossary, and brief background notes to give even more context. But as with her Newbery Honor Book, Shabanu (1989), it's the personal story, not the history, that compels as it takes readers beyond the modern stereotypes of Muslims as fundamentalist fanatics. There are no sweet reunions, but there's hope in heartbreaking scenes of kindness and courage. For another book about post-9/11 Afghanistan, suggest Catherine Stine's Refugees (2004). Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Grade Level: 7 - 12
  • Lexile Measure: 1010L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); 1st edition (August 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374380252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374380250
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,624,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By The Careful Collector on September 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Under the Persimmon Tree is a look at life in Afghanistan/Pakistan in the months immediately following September 11, 2001 through the eyes of two women. One is Najmah, a young Afghan girl left alone with her pregnant mother when her father and brother are conscripted by the Taliban. Her mother and the baby are killed during an air raid over their village a short time later. Now Najmah must travel to Peshwar to find her father and brother, and save their land.

The other is Nusrat, an American teacher, convert of Islam, who came to Pakistan when her Afghan husband Faiz decided to return to his home to help those suffering because of the war. Their stories converge when Najmah is brought to Nusrat's home in Peshwar, where she teaches a school for refugee children. Together they seek answers about their families, and their future.

This is a heartbreaking story, with a solid core of hope and strength. There is no happy ending, yet the future does not seem bleak. This timely and thought-provoking book is sure to be a contender for this year's Newbery Medal.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Team LitPick on August 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The year is 2001. Afghanistan is in the middle of a war between the Taliban and the US- backed Northern Alliance. The story follows two extraordinary people: Najmah and Nusrat. Najmah, whose name means "star," has lost almost all of her family to the fighting. Her only remaining relative is an uncle, whose sole aim is to steal the land that her father wanted her so much to protect. Najmah has no choice, but to accompany a family of travelers, as they are the only people, it seems, that care about her. The other main character is a woman by the name of Nusrat, an American living in Peshawar, Pakistan. Her school for refugee children under her Persimmon Tree keeps her mind away from her husband, who is working in northern Afghanistan as a doctor. Through a perilous journey, Najmah comes to live with Nusrat, and their lives entwine, as Najmah studies under the persimmon tree with other children who have seen more hardship in their young lives than Nusrat has seen in her entire lifetime.

This book was an amazing testament to those who must give up their lifestyle and possessions to warfare and hardship. "Under the Persimmon Tree" gives a face to all those who surrender all individuality to the western media, and are just masses of people in their eyes. I could not put the book down. I received the book on a Friday evening, and was done by Saturday morning. The way Suzanne Fisher Staples writes is both knowledgeable and empathetic. Her firsthand experience of the change of Afghanistan from a cultural center to a barren wasteland translates very clearly into the amazing and true-to-life storyline. Ms. Staples lived in Afghanistan from the time before the Soviet Invasion that changed the country forever to the time of the Taliban takeover.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Julie Hahnke on September 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This story unfolds through two perspectives: a young girl in Afghanistan and an American woman living in Pakistan, in the months immediately following 9/11. Their seemingly contradictory lifestyles share surprising similarities in their experiences, suffering and hopes, as the story draws these two together.

The narrative weaves a delicate path, sensitive amidst the hardship and loss of the period, and provides a convincing and compelling explanation for each character's motives.

The story climaxes with an ending that is poignantly true to its characters, despite the reader's wishes, yet is satisfying in its own brutal realism.

Surely a Newbery contender!
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By N. S. VINE VOICE on August 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
" 'So,' she says, wiping the tears from his cheeks with the flat of her hand, a gesture that seems so motherly that her throat closes. 'Do you need a place to stay?' The boy nods his head slowly.

"Nusrat reaches into a bowl on the table that stands in front of the window beside their chairs and picks up a bright orange persimmon that sits on top of a pyramid of ripe fruit. She takes the boy's hand and turns it palm up to place the fruit in it. She runs her finger over the calluses at the base of his fingers and below the center knuckles and looks up into his eyes, which watch her intently as she places the fruit in the cup of his palm and curls his fingers up over it.

" 'Well,' says Nusrat. 'Don't worry.' "

If you want some basic information about a foreign country, one place you can find it online is in the Central Intelligence Agency's "The World Factbook." In looking up Afghanistan in the CIA's "The World Factbook" I learned that as of 10 February, 2005 (which was when their facts were last updated), the population of Afghanistan was around 28 and a half million people. I also learned that the life expectancy at birth in Afghanistan as of 10 February, 2005 is 42 and a half years. (This compares to California with a population of 35 million and a life expectancy at birth of 79 and a half years.)

So, if I lived in Afghanistan, the odds are that I'd currently be dead for the past 7 and a half years.

Earlier this year I wrote about PINNED, a terrific story about two high school wrestlers from two different towns in New Jersey (where the life expectancy at birth is two years less than in California).
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