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.

Mailbox Monday #211

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Unabridged Chick.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton, which came unexpectedly from Unbridled Books.

What Changes Everything is truly an American story on an international stage, told through an ensemble of heartening characters. In a gamble to save her kidnapped husband’s life, Clarissa Barbery makes the best decisions she can in the dark nights of Brooklyn. Stela Sidorova, who owns a used bookstore in Ohio, writes letter after letter hoping to comprehend the loss of a son on an Afghan battlefield and to reconnect with the son who abandoned her when his brother died. And Mandy Wilkens, the mother of a gravely wounded soldier from Texas, travels to Kabul to heal wounds of several kinds. At the same time, What Changes Everything is the story of two Afghans who reveal the complexity of their culture, the emotions that hold it together and those that threaten to fracture it. These lives are braided into an extraordinary novel about the grace of family.

2.  Seduction by M.J. Rose for review in May with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.

3.  Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman for review from the author.

Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky.  She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and opens her own graciously-appointed shop in Charleston. Breathing new life into these discarded objects gives Teddi purpose, but has never alleviated the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to find him. It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last.

Looking for Me is an unforgettable novel that is full of Hoffman’s signature heart and humor—and a grown-up love story to boot. It is destined to make her a bestselling novelist readers will want to read again and again as they have with Adriana Trigiani, Fannie Flagg, and Dorothea Benton Frank.

What did you receive?