While deployed to Afghanistan in 2004-2005 as a combat engineer, National Guardsman Trent Reedy met Zulaikha, a 12 year-old Afghan girl with a severely deforming cleft lip. After getting to know her and her family, Reedy and his fellow soldiers pooled their money and arranged for the girl to have corrective surgery at an American military base. Reedy’s recently published first novel, “Words in the Dust,” imagines the girl’s life.
The book, which is told from the point of view of the young girl, is aimed at the young adult market, which seems to mean junior high school and up.
According to a recent article in the L.A. Times, Reedy joined the Army fresh out of high school and went to Afghanistan full of anger at the attacks of September 11. His understanding of the Afghan people began to change when he watched two small Afghan children playing in the street, while he was on guard duty. “The boy was pulling a box with a piece of yarn, and the girl was just pulling a piece of yarn,” said Reedy. “These were their toys. It was that day that I thought, ‘They’re not the enemy.’ If anything, these people were more of a victim of Al Qaeda and the Taliban than I am. You can’t keep the anger up looking at those little kids.”
Reedy’s ability to forge a friendship with Zulaikha was limited by the strict rules governing interaction between the sexes. Still he was struck by Zulaikha’s yearning to achieve an education and learn to read. He promised her that he would tell her story, telling the L.A. Times, “It was a mission I absolutely had to accomplish, no matter how long it took or how ridiculous it sounded that a white guy from Iowa would write it.”
In another interview, Reedy said, “It’s never been more clear that we need more understanding about the people of Afghanistan. We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, and we need to understand who these people are. I was amazed by the people I met in Afghanistan. I owe my life to the Afghans.”
Reedy, who taught high school English for four years after his return from Afghanistan, is now working full-time on his second book. He plans to rejoin the National Guard, and to keep writing. “I miss the Army,” he said, but added “I couldn’t stop writing, if I wanted to.”
I look forward to reading “Words in the Dust” soon.
Story by Melissa Cooper
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