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.
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.