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Zaheda Ghani and her family arrived in Australia from Afghanistan as refugees in the 1980s. At nine years old Zaheda, handwrote her first novel using a HB pencil, in a scented diary with a lock and key.

The heart of what she wrote back then developed over many years to become Pomegranate & Fig, which was shortlisted for the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers.

Discover more about this debut about tradition, family, war and displacement in our exclusive Q&A.

The name of your novel is very evocative. What does it represent?

ZG: I remember as a kid picking pomegranates from trees and eating fresh figs. In my family these fruits have always been associated with Afghanistan, so this was the first place my mind went when I was thinking of a name for the novel. 

Pomegranate & Fig is written through the perspectives of three characters – Henna, Hamid and Rahim. Can you introduce us to them in a sentence each?

ZG: Henna grows up being told she is frail and weak, but war turns her life upside down and she must discover deep reserves of strength within herself.

Rahim has a rich and complex inner life, the Soviet invasion raises conflicting needs between his sense of duty for his country and what’s right for his family.

Hamid is a fragile and spiritual soul whose on a path to emotional healing but his journey is interrupted and his life takes a tragic turn when the war comes  - in a way Hamid is like Afghanistan itself, many opportunities to heal have come along but it has always ended in tragedy.

Zaheda Ghani

Zaheda Ghani

Has your work at UNHCR informed some aspects of the novel?

ZG: No, it has not but they are connected in that my first focus area with UNHCR was the Afghan refugee crisis.

This novel was shortlisted for the Richell Prize – what did that mean for you, and would you recommend budding novelists to enter prizes?

ZG: I could not believe it when it happened; in a nutshell it changed my life because it enabled me to share my manuscript with the Hachette team when it was ready. I would absolutely encourage entering this prize. 

If there is one thing you hope readers will take away from the novel about the Afghan/Australian experience, what would it be?

ZG: I hope they enjoy getting to know the characters and they walk away understanding that we all have a shared humanity and we want the same things in life, no matter where we are born. 

Pomegranate & Fig is available online and at your local Dymocks store.

Pomegranate & Fig
Zaheda Ghani

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