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“A powerful read.” —Ahmed Rashid, New York Times Bestselling author of Taliban

“By the end of the book, young readers will be cheering for Fadi as a good friend.” —Mitali Perkins, author of Tiger Boy and You Bring the Distant Near

“Senzai has brought a whole new world to life for young readers. It is a world they won't soon forget.” —Reza Aslan, author of No God but God

In the summer of 2001, twelve year old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.

Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?

Based in part on the Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing his home in Soviet controlled Afghanistan in the 1970s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.

A Reading Group Guide to

Shooting Kabul

By N. H. Senzai


The discussion questions and activities that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Shooting Kabul. Please feel free to adapt these materials to suit the needs of your classroom or community group.


1. Chapter 1 begins with the sentence, “It’s a perfect night to run away . . .” From what is the family running at the opening of the story? Describe at least three ways in which running away (or choosing to stay) is an important idea in terms of the novel’s plot and themes.

2. Describe the main character, Fadi. What are his interests and dreams? What roles does he play within both his immediate family and his larger Afghan community in California? How are Fadi’s family and community relationships similar to, or different from, your own?

3. Why did Fadi’s father, Habib, choose to return to Afghanistan? What does this choice tell you about Habib? If you were a member of Habib’s family, how would you have felt about this decision?

4. What happens to Fadi’s sister, Mariam, as the family embarks on their escape from Afghanistan? How are feelings of guilt and responsibility about this incident expressed differently by various members of the family?

5. What do Fadi’s memories of life with Mariam teach readers about Afghanistan? What type of doll is Gulmina? Is this important? In what ways might this doll be viewed as a symbol of the west? Can you think of other ideas represented by Gulmina?

6. How does Fadi react to meeting his extended family in San Francisco? How does Mariam’s absence affect this reunion? In what ways do family members reach out to Fadi, Noor, and their parents? What is life like in Uncle Amin’s house? What job does Habib take in America?

7. At his new school, Fadi “. . . felt as though he were hidden behind a camera lens, watching another world whirl past in shattered fragments.” What does this observation tell you about Fadi’s adaptation to his new school? Is he able to form friendships? What kinds of groups does he encounter at school?

8. What happens to Fadi’s camera? What does Fadi’s behavior after the fight with Felix teach you about Fadi? Who helps Fadi enter the photography contest anyway? What is the first picture Fadi takes for the contest? Why does he reject this picture as his contest entry?

9. How does Fadi discover the real picture he wants to take? What brings him to this decision? Have you ever entered a creative or athletic contest? What were your hopes for the outcome? How are they similar to, or different from, Fadi’s reasons for wanting to win?

10. Does Fadi win the contest? How does the contest experience help the family find Mariam? Once Mariam gets to America, do you think Fadi and the others are able to let go of their guilt? Explain your answer.

11. How does the author interweave real world events with the fictional story of Fadi and his family? How do the events of September 11, 2001, affect Fadi’s school and home life? What types of misunderstandings about the Muslim faith and Middle Easterners more generally are shown in the novel? What has the novel taught you about Afghan culture?

12. Why is this novel entitled “Shooting Kabul”? Were you surprised, when you reached the end of the story, at the meaning of “shooting” that the author wanted to convey? After finishing the novel and reading the subsequent Author’s Note, what do you feel is the most important idea or message of this story?


I. Through the Lens

1. Write a short essay describing what photograph you would choose enter a “Take Your Best Shot” contest. If possible, take some pictures. Choose your best shot and write a brief explanation of why you like your selection. With friends or classmates, create a photography display.

2. The author uses the camera, and photography-related words and images, to help readers better understand Fadi’s experiences. Include photography-related language to write a journal entry describing an experience in your own life.

3. Go to your local library or bookstore and look through books by famous photographers such as Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Alfred Stieglitz. Select a photograph that is particularly thought-provoking or inspiring to you. Write a short essay describing the photograph and your thoughts.

4. Go to the library or online to find a picture of Fadi’s old camera, the Minolta XE. Write a short paragraph explaining the history of this camera. Then research cameras and photography to choose a camera you would like to use if you were entering a photography contest. Write a brief description of this camera.

II. Beyond the Book

1. Read Fadi’s favorite book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Then write a two- to three-page essay explaining why you think this book is so meaningful to Fadi.

2. Do you have a favorite book that you read again and again? Create a poster featuring this book. Include a summary of the plot, a list of main characters, and illustrations of the cover or other important images. Present your poster to friends or classmates, making sure to explain why this book is special to you.

3. Both Shooting Kabul and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feature works of art. N. H. Senzai includes the work of fictional photographer Clive Murray. E. L. Konigsburg’s mystery involves the art of Michelangelo. Using what you have learned from reading these novels, write an essay explaining how art and literature can help young people learn more about themselves.

4. Running away is an important concept in both novels. Create a poem, song lyrics, drawing, story, or other creative work exploring the idea of running away.


1. Afghanistan is a country with a rich history. Create an illustrated time line of at least twenty notable moments in Afghan history beginning as far back as 500 b.c.

2. In her Author’s Note, N. H. Senzai tells readers that she “didn’t want to write this book.” Write a letter to the author explaining why you are thankful she did write Shooting Kabul after all.

3. Go to the library or online to find a map of modernday Afghanistan. Learn more about the various ethnic groups that live in this country, including Pukhtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek. Research the Taliban and the effect this organization has had on Afghanistan. Find a newspaper article less than two weeks old that provides information on the current situation in Afghanistan. Imagine you are an advisor to the American president. Present information from your research to help the president better understand the situation in Afghanistan.

4. Go to the library or online to find a recipe for mantu. With adult help, prepare this dish for friends or classmates. Invite friends or classmates to share favorite ethnic recipes enjoyed by their families. Create a class cookbook, including recipes and short paragraphs in which each student explains the origin or importance of the recipe they shared.
Photograph © Sylvia Fife

N. H. Senzai is the author of the acclaimed Shooting Kabul, which was on numerous state award lists and an NPR Backseat Book Club Pick. Its companion, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. While her first two books are based in part on husband’s experience fleeing Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in the 1970s, her third, Ticket to India is based on her own family’s history. She is also the author of Escape from Aleppo. Ms. Senzai lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit her online at

"In N.H. Senzai's debut novel, worlds collide and a little sister is lost. Can her big brother find her from half a world away? At the same time, how can he find himself and restore his honor in a land that is both foreign and home? Turn the pages. Find out." —Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath, a 2009 Newbery Honor book

“The hero of SHOOTING KABUL starts life in the United States as a foreigner, but by the end of the book, young readers will be cheering for Fadi as a good friend.” —Mitali Perkins, author of Secret Keeper

“Senzai has brought a whole new world to life for young readers. It is a world they won't soon forget.”—Reza Aslan, author of No god but God

"Senzai has captured a moment in recent history with enormous grace, skill and emotion. A powerful read." Ahmed Rashid, New York Times Bestselling author of Taliban

"an ambitious story with much to offer: a likable protagonist in Fadi, an original and engaging plot and a lens through which readers will learn much about the current conflict."—Kirkus

Beginning in the months before 9/11, this sensitive, timely debut follows an Afghan family’s emigration to San Francisco. After receiving a PhD in the U.S. and returning to Kabul to help rebuild the country, Fadi’s father has grown disillusioned with the Taliban (“These are not true Muslims”), and he pays human traffickers to smuggle his family into Pakistan. During the terrifying flight, Fadi’s six-year-old sister, Mariam, is lost. After fruitless, life-risking searches, the grief-stricken family tries to begin anew in California, while overseas efforts to find Mariam continue. Conversations often feel purposeful as Senzai educates readers about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Afghan cultural diversity, and the Qur’an’s fundamental messages of peace. But she writes with powerful, realistic detail about Fadi’s family’s experiences, particularly the prejudice Fadi finds at school after planes hit the Twin Towers and the guilt he suffers over Mariam’s disappearance. An abrupt but satisfying contrivance brings this illuminating docu-novel to a joyful conclusion, and young readers may well want to move on to the appended resources to learn more.

– Booklist

Just past midnight on an August night in 2001, Fadi Nurzai and his family wait in a moonlit street in Jalabad, Afghanistan, hoping to board a truck bound for the Pakistani border. They scramble into the back of the truck just before Taliban soldiers reach their position, but Fadi’s six-year-old sister, Mariam, slips out of his grasp as he tries to lift her, and she is left behind when the truck pulls away. While Fadi’s father delays their journey to search for Mariam, the family is ultimately forced to travel on to the United States without her, spreading word to friends and family back in Afghanistan in hopes she will be found. As Fadi adjusts to his new life in the San Francisco area and starts middle school, he must also deal with the guilt he feels over Mariam’s loss, pinning his hopes on a photo contest that features a grand prize of traveling to India. The story, based loosely on the life of the author’s husband, backdrops Fadi’s personal struggles with the considerable world events going on in 2001, including the 9/11 attacks on New York City. The abundance of facts about Afghanistan and the book’s jumps between live action and expository flashbacks sometimes distance the reader and bog down the action, but they grow less obtrusive as the story continues. Tailor-made for classroom applications, the tale is also compelling, and the compassionate portrayals of Fadi and his family (who are eventually reunited with their lost daughter) will keep readers engaged. This will be a natural fit for curricula and discussions about the 9/11 attacks and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. An author’s note, glossary, and further reading list are included.

– The Bulletin

"Fadi's world is one of strong familial ties, Islam, and a vibrant, strong immigrant community. For all of Fadi's differences from his Fremont, California classmates, he will still seem very familiar to many middle schoolers. The novel allows readers a view of a different culture and provides background for events that still plague us today."--Steven Kral, VOYA, August 2010

"Bay Area writer N.H. Senzai, who based her first novel in part on her husband's family's escape from Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in 1979, has a warm, engaging style that belies the subject matter. She keeps the story firmly through Fade's eyes. He is a middle-schooler, plucky but not precocious, struggling to adjust to his new life in America, stricken by guilt about his sister, worried about his ailing mother, but still a boy."--Sandip Roy, San Francisco Chronicle, July 01 2010.

  • ILA Teachers' Choices
  • South Carolina Picture Book Award Nominee
  • Oregon Battle of the Books List
  • Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
  • Northern California Book Award Nominee
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award Master List (IL)
  • Great Lakes Great Books Master List (MI)
  • California Collections
  • Massachusetts Children's Book Award Master List
  • CBC/NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book
  • Middle East Book Award (Middle East Outreach Council)
  • APALA Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • PSLA YA Top 40

More books from this author: N. H. Senzai

More books in this series: The Kabul Chronicles