“Shahana” by Rosanne Hawke is the first in a series of novels set in war zones as told through the eyes of a young person. This story is set on the Pakistani-Indian border. The author spent some time in Pakistan as an aid worker, her experiences there bring a realistic authenticity to a well crafted and exciting story. In an historic postscript to the novel, Hawke explains that the conflict over sovereignty of Kashmir is the longest existing war anywhere, having commenced in 1947. As is common to most war zones, it is the children who suffer the most.
The protagonist Shahana is an orphan, living alone with her younger brother within a short walk of the Line of Control patrolled constantly by Pakistani and Indian soldiers. Being orphans, Shahana supports her fractured family by creating exquisite embroidery, her only means of financial survival.
When Shahana rescues unconscious Zahid near the border, she is thrown into a dangerous dilemma. She can’t leave him to die, but to shelter him in their humble home brings her and her brother an even great risk. To alert the authorities would bring Zahid certain imprisonment or even death. To further complicate Shahana’s life, her brother Tanveer is taken captive and into virtual slavery under the “care” of the man to whom she sells her embroidery, a man who would do anything to marry her despite the big difference in their ages.
This is a fast moving, exciting, page-turning novel with many twists in the plot. The author has drawn a range of believable characters caught in a dangerous, life-threatening situation. Life in Pakistan today is shown with all its terrible dangers and stark beauty. Highly recommended.
“Shahana” is published by Allen & Unwin.
Teachers’ notes and an interview with the author can be found here.
My next review in two days time will be of the second in this series, “Naveed” set in Afghanistan.
Disclosure: Rosanne Hawke was my supervising lecturer during the writing of my thesis novel for my Master of Arts Creative Writing degree and remains a close friend and former colleague.