Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for June, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Posted by nliakos on June 30, 2009

by Khaled Hosseini – Riverhead Books 2007

I think it took me just three days to finish Khaled Hosseini’s second novel (the first being The Kite Runner).  I was very quickly swept up in the story of the humble but strong Maryam and the intelligent and beautiful Laila, the gentle Tariq and the despicable Rasheed, Afghanistan and the Soviets, the Mujaheddin and the Taliban.  It was very hard to put the book down.  I had read about the events in Afghanistan, but the novel allowed me to experience them firsthand, as it were, through the eyes of Maryam and Laila, the two protagonists, wives of Rasheed.   I experienced their shame and humiliation at his hands and at the hands of the Taliban, for whom women were no better than slaves, completely dispensable.  How else can we explain the utter disregard for them, as written into the laws once the Taliban took over:

You will stay inside your home at all times.  It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.

You will not, under any circumstance, show your face.  You will cover with burqa when outside.  If you do not, you will be severely beaten.

Cosmetics are forbidden.

Jewelry is forbidden.

You will not wear charming clothes.

You will not speak unless spoken to.

You will not make eye contact with men.

You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.

You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.

Girls are forbidden from attending school.  All schools for girls will be closed immediately.

Women are forbidden from working.

If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.

Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-akbar.

(pp. 248-249)

Whatever possessed these people to think that they had the right to restrict the activities of their fellow human beings in such a way?  Some of the rules are so petty and stupid (If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.) that it makes the reader want to laugh, but it was no joking matter, and we see just how serious the consequences could be.  Through the eyes of the two principal characters, we experience the powerlessness of Afghan women.

Hosseini, writing from a female point of view, captures well his characters’ feelings and perceptions.  It always amazes me that a male author can so successfully portray feminine experience.

A very special book, very worth reading.

Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments »

Silver Wedding

Posted by nliakos on June 22, 2009

by Maeve Binchy

This short novel is classic Binchy.  It takes a situation (the 25th wedding anniversary of Desmond and Deirdre Doyle) and chapter by chapter looks at that situation from the points of view of the various characters: the couple themselves, their three children, their friends, other relatives, and the priest that married them.  Everyone’s life has its tragic aspect.  The husband and the three adult children are struggling to free themselves from their mother’s insistence that they pretend they are something they aren’t.  Deirdre herself believes that she must pretend to satisfy her own mother, which turns out not to be true.  Amazingly, it all works out in the end.  Not my favorite Binchy, but a good one-day read.

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Not Even My Name

Posted by nliakos on June 22, 2009

by Thea Halo (Picador, 2000/2001)

Thea Halo’s mother was born to Greek parents in present-day Turkey during the Ottoman rule.  When she was ten, the Turks drove her and her family out of the village where they and their ancestors had lived for thousands of years and into the interior of the country.  Fourteen pages in the middle of the book summarize the general history and background of  Turkey’s expulsion of its non-Muslim peoples in the early twnetieth century, and the rest of the book focuses on what happened to Themia, the little Greek girl who became Thea Halo’s mother, Sano.  (The title refers to the fact that because the Assyrians she lived with could not pronounce her name, they gave her a new one, thus ending any connection to her Greek past.)   After her parents gave her up because they could not feed her, she was abused by the woman she worked for until she finally ran away.  At the age of 15, she married an Assyrian man much older than she and emigrated to the United States, where she learned English (possibly her sixth language) and raised a large family.  A kind of success story, only it is hard to imagine how she coped with the tragic loss of her entire family.  A very sad story, but one that needs to be told.

Posted in Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »