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Tiny Dancer
Tiny Dancer
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Anthony gives an overview of the book:

       "After reader Tiny Dancer, one cannot help but be in awe of the human spirit.  And it is a story of profound transformation, not merely physical, but that of the heart."  -- Khaled Hosseini - author of The Kite Runner        It is the early summer of 2001 out in the remote deserts of Afghanistan, home to a nine year-old girl named Zubaida (Zoo-BAY-dah) Hassan and her large impoverished family.  Zubaida’s simple life turns completely around when she accidentally falls into a kerosene fire.  Her face and torso melt into a useless mass -- but she survives.  There is no effective medical treatment available in her country.  As a damaged female child, the Taliban ruled culture values Zubaida at nothing.        THEN – she and her father meet an American soldier on the street who takes them to the doctors at the U.S. base, in violation of standing orders...
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       "After reader Tiny Dancer, one cannot help but be in awe of the human spirit.  And it is a story of profound transformation, not merely physical, but that of the heart."  -- Khaled Hosseini - author of The Kite Runner

       It is the early summer of 2001 out in the remote deserts of Afghanistan, home to a nine year-old girl named Zubaida (Zoo-BAY-dah) Hassan and her large impoverished family.  Zubaida’s simple life turns completely around when she accidentally falls into a kerosene fire.  Her face and torso melt into a useless mass -- but she survives.  There is no effective medical treatment available in her country.  As a damaged female child, the Taliban ruled culture values Zubaida at nothing.

       THEN – she and her father meet an American soldier on the street who takes them to the doctors at the U.S. base, in violation of standing orders about interacting with the local population. The military doctors are already swamped, but they can’t turn away from her.  

       Thus begins her two-year journey through a series of medical miracles provided by individual soldiers and a network of private American citizens.  Throughout the story, events are rooted in Zubaida’s POV, to the point that when she first arrives in the U.S. alone, everyone seems to speak gibberish.  But over the next year, the story follows her gradual understanding of Western culture and her enrollment in school for the first time, where her natural leadership qualities emerge among her American classmates.

       While she experiences the restorative miracles of Dr. Peter Grossman and the home support of his wife, Rebecca, Zubaida blossoms physically and emotionally.  A year later, she returns home eager to continue her education.  She remains loyal to her clan, but she is also forever changed and will no longer tolerate the limited future that tradition has dictated for her. 

       She becomes a living example of how much education can do to free the trapped women of the Middle East, while she transforms from a figure of ridicule to a respected role model among Afghanistan’s formerly invisible female population.

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                                                                                           Chapter Ten

                One of the men in the bazaar who did not know Mohammed Hasan asked him how a father could stoop so low as to take his burned and scarred little daughter through the marketplaces of the cities that they travel to for medical help, just so she might be used to gain sympathy from others and gather a few coins from their pity. Sometimes Hasan answered the challenges, stiff in his defiance. Most other times, he kept the wise things that he had learned to himself…

When it is God’s will — Enshallah — that your young dancing daughter is forced to exist inside of a melted shell of burned flesh, her face destroyed and her arms nearly useless, one look at her will assure you that it must also be Enshallah that she survives.

And yet you know that in the eyes of others, the very fact that she remains impossibly alive and aware within her tormented and agonized state is a direct reflection upon you — perhaps Allah has elected to inflict some extra degree of punishment in addition to the flames themselves?

And you understand that the misery of this thing is never going to be done with you and with your family, if you allow anyone to assume that this terrible thing happened to your daughter because one of the Hasan household somehow offended Allah.

Perhaps it was your daughter?

Perhaps it was you.

When you say to the world that you are a laborer, but there is no labor to consume you, and when it is God’s will that your wife and children plus your daughter who no longer dances must still eat every day or starve, then you are a weakling and a coward and a deserter of your own family unless you fend for your wife and for all those whom you have created. You will do whatever you must, to be certain that your family survives. You will respect your obligations by seizing upon any opportunity, no matter how small or how daunting it may appear to be. You will do this continually, day to day, month to month.

It does not matter if your grief for your daughter who once danced like a butterfly is raining upon you. You only pray that whatever you have to do, whatever stories you may have to invent in order to pull your family through one more day, they will not be unforgivable things.

And you will certainly never dare to point out to God or to any of his clerics here on Earth — rather you will simply ruminate within your own mind — that it was His will which thrust this situation upon you and made your extreme behavior necessary in the first place.

            Even if Zubaida has become a blight upon the face that you show to the world, she is still your dancing daughter. You can still paint her face back onto her skull with your mind and you can see her there in front of you, buried under her prison of melted flesh. In that moment, your very bone marrow feels the truth that if you had to kill a man with your bare hands to keep him from taunting your daughter, from ever again tormenting anyone in the family by implying that Zubaida somehow deserved her fate — you could do it in an instant.

And why not? God willing, when a civilized man attacks a mongrel, it is the civilized man who walks away.

            So you fight to survive every single day. Make it known in the marketplace that you will take any job at all. Anything. Then you roll with the motion of Allah’s curse upon your daughter like a good rider rolls with the motion of the camel saddle. You make sure that everyone knows: if they allow Mohammed Hasan to suffer hunger, they will be condemning his burned daughter Zubaida to the same fate.

Enshallah, their hard hearts will be moved by the unbelievable sight of a small human being who still lives, hideously melted, months after the flash fire that devoured her — and for her sake, they will perhaps offer work opportunities to you that might otherwise go to others.

If you get a bad feeling in your stomach about doing something like that, or if you get a tight feeling of guilt in the back of your head, then you simply call up the picture of the doctors at the hospitals who sent your dancing daughter back home to you and who told you that there was nothing else to do but to pray for her to die. With that memory, you let the anger fuel you.

And because you know that you will never have an opportunity to flush that anger away, all at one time, by throttling the arrogant stink of a doctor until his neck bones break like the neck of a hen, you will hold the anger close instead, deep inside of your heart, and allow it smolder. You will also allow its power to make you bold while you move into the marketplace and when you stand up and demand special consideration, even from among so many other desperate men.

When you feel weak and cursed, you will release the power of your hidden anger and feel it lift up your jaw and stiffen your spine. It will make you so determined that even if some would rise up to taunt you and imply that you have drawn this terrible thing down upon yourself, nevertheless you will remain bold among them and you will overcome any resistance that they present.

You will do it every day for the rest of your life, if you have to, because you cannot bring home a bagful of excuses for Bador to feed to the children. It was never the family’s fault that their meager resources should be consumed by the needs of your damaged daughter, just as it was not hers.

Is the blame yours, then? It does not matter. You were not made a beggar by the power of guilt; you were made a beggar by your daughter’s tragedy. Therefore you will beg for work, when there is work, and you will simply beg when there is no work to be had. You will do that, because you are a man and this is your family.

You will gather your strength from your sense of manhood and stand before anyone who might be able to help you and then you will grovel until they do just that. You will cry like a child, if that is what it takes to move their help in your direction, so that you can go home to your family with your hands full, one more time. Your primary allegiance is to them, even before your allegiance to the clan — and the clan would have little to do with a man who failed to make every possible effort to care for his own.

You may be mocked for debasing yourself, but you would be shunned if you failed your family and you would be cursed if you failed your daughter.

            And so it shall be for you, Enshallah.

anthony-flacco's picture

This is the kind of story that every writer of nonfiction dreams of coming across. My gratitude goes out to all who were involved.

About Anthony

Writers Guild of America / west -- Mystery Writers of America -- International Thriller Writers

Anthony’s background as a trained stage actor with over 2,000 performances under his Actors Equity membership provides the primary basis for his critically...

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Published Reviews

Feb.14.2008

         "Every historical mystery tries to home in on the ideal setting at the perfect moment in time.  Anthony Flacco succeeds on both counts in his first novel, THE LAST NIGHTINGALE, which opens on...

Jul.14.2009

Tiny Dancer was selected as one of the "100 Most Noteworthy Books of 2005"

Author's Publishing Notes

This book is published in Italy by Piemme and has achieved bestseller status there under the translation title of "La Danzatrice Bambina."