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  • Writer's pictureFrederic Martin

Review: Street of Storytellers

I find that coming-of-age fiction set in a historical context can be a powerful and compelling combination. Books like Anthony Doerr’s excellent “All the Light We Cannot See” provide a portal for us to experience history in a very intimate way: reliving a very vivid and formative time of our life in a completely foreign setting.

For me, “Street of Storytellers” is just such a book, though I have a hard time reconciling myself to the fact that the time-period setting, the early 1980s, is, in fact, a historical period (I was in my twenties!). However, the fact that this is recent history means that events of that time (such as the genesis of Al Qaeda) still resonate strongly with ongoing consequences in the present. That in itself is enough to keep you flipping the pages, but even in the absence of that, Wilhelm’s story-telling skill from fifteen-year-old Luke’s perspective is engrossing and authentic.

Luke is unwillingly dragged to Peshawar, Pakistan, by his father, and his resulting I-don’t-wanna-be-here attitude is laid out in full American teen splendor. His sarcastic attitude is gradually modulated by the intriguing sights and sounds of a radically different culture. His befriending of a young Afghan Pashtun, Yusuf, evolves into a rich experience immersing Luke in the diverse and fractured Muslim community in Peshawar. Another Pashtun friend, Rashi, who has been seduced to join the Wahhabi, an orthodox form of Islam, presents an early-life conundrum for Luke as he is pressured to conform to two very different competing influences—Yusuf’s peaceful and welcoming side of Islam or Rashi’s ultra-conservative and strict form of Islam. The resulting conflict produces a series of unexpected yet shockingly plausible life-threatening events.

Wilhelm’s teen narrative is expertly written and his rich descriptions of 1980’s Peshawar’s physical and cultural landscape are engrossing and reflect his thorough research as well as his personal experience (he lived in Pakistan for two years during the 80s).

If it were up to me, I would put this on a banned book list in Florida which, by my standard, flags it as extremely worthy reading for anyone from teen to senior.

4.6/5 stars

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