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Nadia Hashimi: On Seeing Ourselves in Historical Fiction

International bestselling author Nadia Hashimi discusses how her latest historical fiction novel Sparks Like Stars caused her to see the need for representation in storytelling.

Nadia Hashimi is a pediatrician turned internationally bestselling author. Her novels for adults and children are inspired by the people and history of Afghanistan and have been translated into 16 languages. She is a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, Montgomery County Commission on Health, and serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations with focuses on education, hunger, and civic engagement. Originally from New York, she lives with her husband and four children in Potomac, Maryland.

Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi

In this post, Hashimi discusses how her latest historical fiction novel Sparks Like Stars caused her to see the need for representation in storytelling and much more!

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Historical Fiction

Join Donna Russo Morin to learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them. And uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc. Most of all, find out how to honor verisimilitude—the goal of any historical writing—and avoid the dreaded anachronism.

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Name: Nadia Hashimi
Literary agent: Helen Heller
Title: Sparks Like Stars
Publisher: William Morrow
Release date: March 2, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: When a military group executes a coup in Kabul’s presidential palace, 10-year-old Sitara is the lone survivor. Thirty years later, a shadowy figure walks into her New York City clinic and pulls her back to the memories and questions about all she loved and lost that night.
Previous titles by the author: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, When the Moon is Low, A House Without Windows, One Half From the East, and The Sky at Our Feet

Sparks like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi

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What prompted you to write this book?

In 2009, I came across an article about the 1978 military coup in Kabul. Afghanistan’s first president, Daoud Khan, and his family were assassinated in the presidential palace. The youngest victim was a mere toddler. Under the cover of night, the bodies were buried in an unmarked grave, and in the morning, a leftist political party claimed authority over the country. The location of their bodies remained a secret for 30 years. The more I read, the more I realized the shots fired on that dark night marked the beginning of what would turn out to be decades of conflict.

I was intrigued because the Kabul of my parents’ youth was a lively, cosmopolitan city. Their homeland was a travel destination for starry-eyed hippies from Europe and the U.S. At the same time, Cold War tensions were pulling the country in different directions. Political dissenters were jailed or disappeared.

I wanted to explore the devastating impact this coup had on one girl. To me, that’s the beginning of understanding the impact this event had on a nation.

(Writing with Wonder: Weaving Time and Place with Story in Historical Fiction)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

The article I’d read about the coup stayed with me, but at that time, I was writing another novel. Sometimes stories have to be patient and wait their turn. I started digging into the research in 2017. On the way, the characters began to reveal themselves. I started writing my first draft in 2018. Having read many first-person accounts by American foreign service officers stationed in Kabul at that time of the coup, I began exploring how to incorporate what I was learning. My early drafts included dual perspectives (a young Afghan girl and an American foreign service officer), but something about that arrangement didn’t click. At the suggestion of my very astute agent, I centered the story around the voice of young Sitara and that’s when the story began to gel.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

With previous book launches, I’ve been in bookstores or even on a literal tour around the world. This launch was very different but writers, publishers, and readers have all learned to flex with the times. I’ve fallen hard for the world of #Bookstagram with its gorgeously curated photos of book covers. The sense of community is amazing. I’ve also learned how important stories are to our lives. We need quiet moments to take in stories. We need spaces in which we can react to stories. We need to see ourselves on the shelves around us. And we desperately need to feel whole enough to tell these stories.

(Historical Fiction: Discover New Truths in the Past)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I was lucky to have finished this book before we all began staying at home. My four children have been doing virtual school from different corners of our home. To put it mildly, it’s been a challenge to write under these circumstances. I’ve realized just how much I miss having the mental and physical space to write. Having a pub date to look forward to has been a balm to my soul.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

As a child of the '80s, I watched an oiled Rambo come to the aid of freedom fighters battling Russian invaders. Everything glistened—his biceps, the black stallion he rode, the machine gun he touted. We watched the movie several times. Stories about Afghans or Afghanistan were rare prior to 9/11. Since then, narratives around Afghanistan have leaned heavily on stereotypes and originate from outside the culture. But Afghans are far more than beards and burqas. I hope this story will give a more nuanced look at America’s involvement in Afghanistan and communicate the very human toll of an ideological conflict.

Nadia Hashimi: On Seeing Ourselves in Historical Fiction

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Let your characters live in your head rent-free. Watch them come and go. Observe what they do when they think no one is watching. Record their quirks. Interrogate them. When you dance with them, let them lead. This has greased the storytelling wheels for me and made the writing flow more naturally. 

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