What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton

Source: Unbridled Books, unsolicited
Hardcover, 288 pages
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What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton is a look at the reverberating impact of war on not only the countries directly affected, but also those countries who send people to help refugees and the injured.  Todd Barbery coordinates aid for refugees and hospitals with the help of his Afghan contact, Amin.  Todd is far from his wife Clarissa of about three years and his only daughter Ruby, who is just beginning her own life, but while Clarissa fears for his safety and has wrestled a promise from him that this will be his last rotation in Afghanistan, Todd wishes not to be so closely guarded and insists on moments of freedom.

“Already wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt, she tied the laces to her tennis shoes, tugged a sweatshirt over her head, and slipped downstairs.  Her stomach felt hollow.  Hunger had largely left her during these last days — she’d always been an indifferent eater, but now she found herself forgetting about food altogether until she’d notice her hands were shaking.”  (Page 135 ARC)

Each section is from a different perspective that alternates between Todd, the subject who is kidnapped and the major driver of the plot; Clarissa; Amin; Mandy; and Stela and Danil — a mother and her son, a young graffiti artist who lost his brother to Afghanistan and friendly fire.  While many of these characters’ experiences and lives intersect, Mandy and the letters written by Najibullah — a former ruler of the nation who is held by the UN and not allowed to leave for exile with his wife and daughters — are outside those interactions and direct connections to demonstrate a more compassionate and empathetic side of the story to juxtapose the heartbreak and devastation of war.

“The man turned toward Todd.  He was about twenty-five years old.  He wore a blue-gray turban and a brown vest over his salwar kameez, and his eyebrows were unusually thick, like angry storm clouds hovering over his eyes.”  (page 31 ARC)

There is great compassion and hidden understanding in these fictional lives, and much of that seems to stem from the torture and death of a historical figure, Najibullah, at least as a driving force for Amin.  However, the letters from the former president to his daughters in exile tend to pull the reader out of the rest of the story until the connection is made to Amin, and the novel may have been better served had those letters been truncated and included in Amin’s portion of the story as flashbacks or memories.  The tension with the kidnapping is well done as is the tension between Clarissa and her step-daughter as negotiations continue and the FBI is looking for the go-ahead for a military distraction even though they claim they do not know her husband’s exact location.

Danger is around every corner, or that’s how it should be perceived in this novel, and when it isn’t unfortunate things happen but at other times unexpectedly good things happen as well.  Hamilton’s prose is easy to read and is packed with emotion and perspectives that are rarely examined in war-based fiction.  The novel seeks to be well-rounded in perspective, which is tough given the complexities of the factions in Afghanistan.  What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton is engaging and hammers home the impact of war not just on the immediate participants and their families, but also those on the periphery and who are actively compassionate in their work and have a need to assist in any way they can.

About the Author:

Masha Hamilton is currently working in Afghanistan as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the US Embassy. She is the author of four acclaimed novels, most recently 31 Hours, which the Washington Post called one of the best novels of 2009 and independent bookstores named an Indie choice. She also founded two world literacy projects, the Camel Book Drive and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. She is the winner of the 2010 Women’s National Book Association award.  Check out the inspiration behind the book, What Changes Everything.  She is also behind the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

This is my 43rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.


  1. Glad you liked it!

  2. Great review Serena! I love the cover art on this book and it certainly sounds like a good and timely story.

  3. I’m looking forward to this book!