McGivering, Jill. The Last Kestrel

Blue Door, $32.99

In The Last Kestrel, the stories of two women, English journalist Ellen and Afghani wife and mother Hasina, become entwined.

Ellen’s friend and translator Jalil has been murdered. Ellen searches for information about his death while stationed with English troops in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. During an offensive, Ellen’s platoon is attacked by grenades thrown from a small building, which is summarily blasted in an aerial strike. In the ruins, they find the bodies of three young children, and a wounded survivor under the rubble: Hasina.

This part of Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold, and one of the largest-producing opium regions in the world. Hasina’s family is entangled in both.

Jill McGivering has mined her years of experience in Afghanistan as a senior BBC foreign news correspondent to create this genuine-feeling debut. Many aspects appear drawn directly from her familiarity with the country, its people, and their customs. The bombing of Hasina’s home reflects McGivering’s own experience. When embedded with the British troops, she witnessed firsthand the death of a family of six (including three young children). The image of the dead children’s bodies, wrapped in fabric, haunted her and became the starting point for this novel.

In a place where life seems cheap, this story humanises the actors. It gives insight into the impact of the war on everyday Afghans and the experience of a foreign journalist embedded with the troops. An increasingly gripping experience, the novel’s final quarter is quite compelling.


Reviewed October 2010