“One starry night in old Kabul …” a curious shah ventures forth from his palace dressed in servant’s clothing. Wondering if his subjects are happy, he stops at the home of a poor man and his wife, who readily invite him in to share what little they have.
The poor man turns out to be a shoemaker who makes a modest living, but always trusts that God will provide enough: “‘If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should.’” Impressed by the man’s faith, the shah decides to test its strength, throwing one obstacle after another against the poor man’s efforts to make a living.
Arbitrarily banned from shoemaking by the shah, the poor man becomes a water carrier, a woodcutter, then even a palace guard. Each night he’s visited by the royal-in-disguise; each night he warmly shares what little he has with his anonymous guest. But when the poor man’s salary temporarily eludes him, he must figure out how he and his wife will eat … not to mention their nightly visitor. The poor man’s wise, unwavering faith soon enough teaches the questioning shah that indeed “‘everything will turn out just as it should.’”
Described as a “passionate proponent of folklore for children” in her bio, Ann Redisch Stampler’s “Author’s Note” at book’s end offers an illuminating look at the origins of this Afghan Jewish tale. Because Stampler grew up with a “mean-spirited European” version, she was thrilled to discover this “beautiful” Afghan retelling.
In spite of today’s violent, uncertain climate in Afghanistan, Stampler’s adaptation is evidence of a time of “intermingling of Jewish and Muslim neighbors in Afghanistan through the centuries.” Her story reminds us that with wisdom and faith – regardless of religious origins, rules, regulations – such peace might someday return once again, with the Kabul night skies lit up with nothing more than shining stars …
Tidbit: As was pointed out to me (rather vehemently) by an Afghan American professor/scholar/author friend, “Afghani” is the name of the official currency of Afghanistan. When referring to people, by noun or adjective, the correct term is “Afghan.” Alas, that would mean “Afghani” is used incorrectly on the inside book cover and the ending “Author’s Note” … so hopefully this inspiring Afghan Jewish shah’s tale will merit a second printing sooner than later!