Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan
Author bio: Born in Pakistan and raised in Canada.
Rukhsana Khan was nice enough to put together a Teacher Guide if you are interested in using this in the classroom.
It is possible for a book to at once be tragic and full of hope, because Wanting Mor is both of these things. After the American invasion life in Afghanistan is difficult. Fields lie fallow since no one can risk farming among the landmines. Subsequently, food is scarce. Many people have lost loved ones due to hunger, illness or the foreign invaders. When Jameela’s mother dies, her father takes her away from the village she has known all of her life to Kabul. Jameela tries her best to be useful and good in the big city. She’s often shocked by the way people live there, particularly that their religious observance (or lack thereof) is so very different from her own. Despite suffering tragic losses and heartbreaking betrayals Jameela finds a place that she can call home and even begins to dream of a future for herself.
Jameela’s story is compelling. Although the initial chapters of the book will be quite difficult for some readers, I think they will be quite taken with the story if they continue. Rukhsana Khan uses many words that will be unfamiliar to readers. Some are in Pashto, Farsi or Arabic, reflecting the languages used in Afghanistan. Other words related to religion and religious practice and prayer will be new to non-Muslims. I would recommend making a photocopy of the Glossary that Khan provides at the end of the book. Many readers will benefit from having it next to them as they read rather than flipping back and forth. As the book continues, it becomes easier, in part because the vocabulary that was new at the beginning becomes familiar. The beginning will also be hard for some readers because Jameela experiences the death of her mother. It can be tough to open a book directly with grief and pain. But as I said before, despite the many heartbreaking parts of this book, the end result is something that is filled with hope.
Great for: An interesting perspective on what life might be like in another culture. Jameela’s own beliefs about how a girl should dress and behave are very different from the mainstream cultural norm in America and it was great to see things through her eyes and her experience. The book also talks about Jameela’s cleft lip (a physical difficulty that is often fixed at birth in countries with ready and affordable access to medical care). I definitely recommend this.
Be careful: Jameela’s feelings about women’s clothing very much reflect how she was raised and her own religious beliefs. At one point it is clear that she feels that women who dress provocatively are bringing negative male attention and sexual harassment on themselves. This is something you may want to discuss with your child. For me personally, I would like to see a world where women are respected regardless of their clothing and that no matter what, a woman’s clothing should not be considered permission to sexually harass or assault her. Jameela is still a young girl and her personal beliefs as reflected in that one part of the book should not be taken as an indication that this is a belief all Muslims share.
Age Recommendation: Grades 6+. I think the vocabulary as well as the content would make this a bit too challenging for younger readers. There’s one fairly graphic description of violence (as marked below) that could be upsetting for some readers.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – Jameela feels uncomfortable watching “men dancing with women, touching them, pawing them, rubbing against them.” A man’s pants are described as straining at the crotch, although the context of this description is not sexual. Men leer. There is an altercation between two men and a woman. There is a vague implication that some improprieties may have occurred but only readers with more knowledge themselves will pick up on this I think. A couple marries in haste. A woman’s menstrual cycle is mentioned. Girls are very frequently afraid to be alone with men because of what the men might do to them. This occurs at times that nearly anyone would be afraid of that, but also at times when it would be less common for many people to worry about that. A boy and girl meet and would like to marry. A young girl takes off her clothes to bathe. An older girl tells her that everything between the belly button and the knees is private and covers her eyes so she does not see. A girl gets married. A girl wonders what another girl’s wedding night will be like. A girl notices that in her clothes, men step aside respectfully while her friend who is wearing low cut and tight clothing is “accidentally” brushed up against. A boy grabs a girl’s breast in a market (he is a stranger; this is an incident of assault not a romantic interlude).
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Almost right from the start, her mother dies and she is the one to find her body. The women bathe the dead body. There have been many deaths and funerals lately. Jameela is afraid her father will hit her. The ground is marked with tank tracks and bomb holes. Jameela heard of a woman who was burned. Jameela thinks about how bodies decay after death. She once saw the body of her goat who died due to a land mine. There were maggots by the goats eye and her tongue was blackened, her stomach swollen. A boy has lost a leg to a land mine. A man dies at the hands of the Americans, in prison. People die in a bombing. Their body parts are collected, but not sorted as they mostly cannot be identified. A man who was blown up is identified by part of his jaw. A person describes someone who was blown up as looking like a pile of breadcrumbs. This most graphic part was on pages 58, 59 in my edition. A boy is slapped. Foreign soldiers carry large guns.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A man smokes opium. Two men get drunk. There is drinking at a party and people pass out from drinking. A man smokes cigarettes.
Frightening or Intense Things – Jameela sometimes wish she could die. A girl is literally abandoned on the streets by her family. A parent lies and says that a child died when it is not true.