In “Still Come Home,” Katey Schultz weaves together the stories of three struggling people: Nathan Miller, a National Guards officer finishing up his fourth tour in Afghanistan; Aaseya, a 17-year-old Afghan girl who wishes for more education and freedom, both denied to her after her family was killed; and Rahim, Aaseya’s 40-year-old husband, who has been caught up in a Taliban scheme. All three characters are brought together in a final confrontation that changes all their lives.
“Still Come Home” is ostensibly a war story, but at its heart it’s a family story. Nathan is torn between his desire to go home and be there for his family, and his deep-seated need to be in the war zone in order to atone for past mistakes and be there for his Guards family. Aaseya and Rahim are supposed to be forming a family, but after three years of marriage there are still no children, and their relationship is often fraught because of Aaseya’s need for freedom and independence. Both families struggle to overcome the internal forces that threaten to tear them apart and scatter them to the winds, just as bodies are torn apart by explosives.
It is also a war story, and on that plane the book builds slowly but steadily towards a crescendo of violence, as Nathan’s squad sets off on a humanitarian mission to Aaseya’s village. The readers are shown different pieces of the story, as Aaseya and Rahim both know parts of what the Taliban is planning, but not the whole thing, and Nathan has no idea. The effect is one of slowly ratcheted up tension, as the reader knows that something violent and tragic is coming, but not what.
The highlight of the book, though, is the humanness of its main characters, and the sense of verisimilitude it gives for its setting. Although it’s not a long book, the descriptions are lush, dwelling on the sweetness of an apricot or the dust of a village street. Both the American and the Afghan characters are fully realized, with Schultz not shying away from some of the more negative aspects of Afghan culture, such as the sexual exploitation of children, but still conveying a sense of sympathy and realism for her characters.
“Still Come Home” is not a high-action, guns-blazing type of war novel. Instead, it focuses on the characters’ relationships and inner lives, and the deft buildup of suspense. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, or anyone wanting to read some contemporary American war prose.