Poor Chechnya. Some countries seem to just have it bad and Chechnya is one of those. I will not delve into political theory or strategy but for those unacquainted with Chechnya’s tragic history, suffice it to say that it is a country surrounded by larger countries with dangerous ambitions, and the Chechen people have paid a hefty price. This novel is about, and isn’t about, the injustices in Chechnya in a tangible way. I know that sounds a bit confusing, but keep with me, I promise I will explain it.
Havaa is an eight year old girl whose father was taken by Russian soldiers in the middle of the night, and her house was burned down. Her father’s estranged friend, Akhmed, finds her hiding in the woods and decides that he must keep the child safe. He decides to take the child to an abandoned, but still slightly functioning, hospital and exchange his medical training for Havaa’s care. Sonja, the only remaining Dr. in residence could use the help, but is reluctant to take on a small child. For one thing, she doesn’t have time, for another, she is certain she doesn’t have the heart. As Akhmed and Sonja work and learn to trust one another, they review their private pasts to illuminate how the choices we make and how judging someone’s motives is not a simple matter.
This book is beautifully written. Marra jumps back and forth so characters are revealed slowly and richly and the readers are continually adapting to the new information. Marra also did not attempt to condemn any side of the conflict. In books like these, so often the writer will try to subtly weave in their own political judgments and opinions. It is a personal pet peeve of mine, as political situations are often to complex for ‘simple’ solutions. Marra’s characters are not bright, shining, moral stars of virtue, they are people who do the best they can with choices they are presented. And sometimes they do not do their best. They are wonderfully human. I enjoyed this book, thoroughly, and would highly recommend it.