Published May 2013 by Unbridled Books
Source: bought this one
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.
Eight-ish years ago, I read and was completely sucked in by Hamilton's 31 Hours (my review). When What Changes Everything was released in 2013, I was just starting to use Netgalley and eagerly requested an ecopy of the book. Then it archived before I got a chance to read it and other books came along and...well, you know how this story goes. A year or so ago, I found a copy at Better World Books and it's been sitting on my shelf since, waiting for me to finally get around to it.
The problem with putting this book off for five years is that it doesn't feel as topical as it would have in 2013, when Afghanistan was still a country in the news every day. Still, the conflict in Afghanistan serves as a compelling backdrop for exploring cultural differences, our role on the world stage, and family dynamics. What Changes Everything looks at the ways that war (whether we call it that or not) leaves scars on everyone involved. You know me well enough by now to know that after reading this book, I had to go learn more about Mohammad Najibullah, former president of Afghanistan, whose actual letters to his daughters appear throughout the book as a way of helping readers understand Afghanistan.
There are a lot of storylines running through this book that all, in one way or another, tie together. As with most books that try to balance numerous storylines, I found some more gripping than others - Clarissa as she tries to cope with her own history and fears while dealing with a step daughter, friends, and the government who all want a say in how to proceed with her husband's kidnapping; Danil, who uses graffiti art to try to deal with the pain of losing his brother and the pain of a mother who will not accept the realities of her son's death; and Amin, who lives in a no man's land between the Americans and his own people and who carries almost unbearable guilt for the death of someone who tried to help years ago.
What Changes Everything doesn't have the tension that had me racing through 31 Hours, but it did pull me into these people's lives and made me want to find out how they might find a way to heal. And it raised questions that still have me thinking:
"Here he was, face-to-face with a question that had been nibbling at him for months. How much responsibility did one person have toward another? If what you mainly had in common was being alive at the same moment and in the same physical space, and then being present enough to see a need, how far must your outstretched hand reach?"