by Khaled Hosseini
This is the story of two Afghan women and what their lives have been like for the last thirty years in their country: Afghanistan.
One of them is Mariam, an illegitimate daughter of an affluent entrepreneur, born in the Farsi western area of the country. She lives with her mother in a humble shack in the outskirts of the city of Herat. They are maintained by her father but kept away from his legitimate family. In fact this illegitimacy, named harami in Farsi, is a word that has scarred her for life.
The only treats she obtains from life, besides fishing in a nearby little stream, are the occasional visits from her father and from her spiritual mentor, whom she is very fond of.
When she is fifteen her mother dies and her father’s family force her to marry a forty-five year old widower shoemaker from Kabul so, the day after this announcement she has to leave with a complete stranger and even without being allowed for a farewell with her mentor Mullah Faizullah.
Her husband, Rasheed, turned out to be a narrow-minded, wicked person who, as Mariam could not give him a baby, is going to cruelly embitter her life. Leaving aside legal family matters, we can perfectly say that it is Rasheed who is a real bastard.
The other woman in this story is Laila, a Pashtun young girl from the neighbourhood of Mariam and Rasheed in Kabul. She came from a middle class family with a certain cultural level. In fact, her father is a teacher who encourages her to continue her studies. She is a very lively, clever girl who has many friends and specially a boy, Tariq, with whom she secretly daydreams about marrying him at some point in the future.
The whole story is set against the background of the recent Afghan history, with all its wars and changes. It begins just before the Soviet invasion, when life elapsed like it used to be for long before. However, there were significant differences between the rural and the urban areas where society was much more open-minded and tolerant.
The Soviet period meant a radical change at least for women. From then on they were allowed and even encouraged to study, to teach, to be owners of their lives and to chose what they wanted of life.
But then came the tribal warlords who led the country to destruction. This is a long period of starvation and struggle to survive the unrelenting shelling and the impunity of the Mujhaideen.
Eventually the Taliban overcome the warlords and this is a change for the worse. They enforce an ultra-religious regime which makes of women something similar to animals, without any right or fairness. They lose all right and all sense of justice, they even do not have what would be called a medical attention.
Throughout all this period lots of people die and many more are rendered homeless or refugees or become widows. It is due to this scenario that Laila reluctantly ends up marrying Rasheed and living with him and Mariam.
I will not continue revelling the plot of his story because most of you may probably want to read this novel and, if you do so, I hope you enjoy it.
To be honest I must say that, from this book, I had expected the type of throwaway literature that can be found in a typical bestseller. They are usually written to entertain readers with some well-known formulae but they fail in showing true characters and deep feelings and emotions. Once you know the plot you can perfectly think there is nothing beyond it.
But I was totally wrong because what I have found is a deeply moving story, without cheap stereotypes and it is beautifully written in a lyrical, almost poetic language that makes you get involved in the lives of the characters.
It is obvious that the author, Khaled Hosseini, has a complete awareness of his country’s reality and recent history and shows them to us with much more richness and complexity than a western mind could imagine. He has as well a deep knowledge of the Afghan culture that goes really beyond the religious matters that permanently shake the country.
But this scenario is only a background where we can observe how many characters play their roles and how they behave depending on the circumstances they live.
Generosity, tolerance, abuse, impunity, cruelty, selfishness define many ways of how people could react when the environment is absolutely hostile and this is the crux of the story: how people are and how they react when everything around is not precisely fair.
Finally, I can tell you that I strongly recommend this novel for all the reasons before mentioned and I am certain that you will not be indifferent to what happen with the characters in this epic story of friendship and personal improvement.
Shack: a very simple and small building made from pieces of wood, metal or other materials, (choza, casucha)
Scar v: to have or leave a scar. Scarred for life: had a serious mental effect on her for the rest of her life (marcado de por vida)
Farewell: when someone says goodbye (despedida)
Elapse v: If time elapses, it goes past (transcurrir, discurrir)
Shell: to fire shell at something (bombardear)
Plot: the story of a book, film, play, etc