The bruised, battered, bitter Afghanistan. The chaotic, chiseled, never-culminating circumstances. Violence and hopeless days and lingering nights, craving for a ray of light. Not of the sun but of a better being, a better future, a better living. The book that Mr. Hosseini binds and the tale narrated therein sends shivers up your spine, brings down those tears in torrents and makes you appreciate even as little as your self-respect and an unbattered body and soul.
|The female protagonist of the novel, to me, a bigger character than Laila!|
The tale revolves around Mariam Jo and Laila Jo, two women, twenty years apart, reunited by fate and in faith of survival and protection of Laila’s kids. Mariam, a figment of Hosseini’s imagination hails from Herat, a small town close to Kabul and being an illegitimate child, is given away at the tiny age of fifteen. Yes, away. The recent pictures doing rounds on social media with women flaunting skirts and roaming on the streets of Afghanistan in the 60’s was soon to become a passé well within two decades. What rippled the provinces apart is less appalling as compared to the atrocity and tyranny that this change brought about. Men, women, children, aged alike were to see rockets zooming over their heads like birds, that common an occurrence and almost every 3rd Afghan falling prey to the monstrosity of the violence, the war and crimes thereon.
So Mariam is married to a shoemaker in Kabul, some 2 decades elder to her and will see 27 years of her life tied to this misery until she finally kills him with a shovel. All, to defend Laila. The girl whom her husband married a decade after their own marriage for want of an offspring and well, for just plain, simple want of it. The imagery of this incident is brought out alive by Hosseini in such a chilling manner that it’s like watching a bloodied movie. The scene is all painted red, literally, with Rasheed and Laila’s son thumping the locked door upstairs, trying to get out. Mariam’s execution by the Taliban to forfeit her deeds takes the reader (read me) by utter surprise. Somewhere, deep down in my wretched soul at having acquainted myself with these war-like conditions in Afghanistan at the time, I was hopeful that something somewhere might just happen right. Up until that point, nothing had. But their separation is what makes this work a classic. The turning point is the return of Laila’s lover, the actual father of her first child, who is much needed to put you to sleep after such a read.
To a completely contented and a well-brought-up soul like me, it is unfathomable as to how people must have seen through this time. The Soviet occupation overthrown by the Mujahideen factions who then get into self-loathing and internal bickering, ohh bickering is too light a word maybe…with scattered body parts all over the province and further decapitation under Taliban rule is all a nightmare. Only a living one. You and I might dread such a thing even in sleep, but people lived, felt, and lived through it. Lived in the hope that living was better than actual death. The fatwah issued by Taliban captors is so absurd that you feel laughter, crying, astonishment, resentment, angst and pity, all at once! Amidst all, the resurrection of Mariam and Laila’s lives in the those years with growing insanity by Rasheed looming larger than their own lives makes you wonder as to why he was not killed any earlier. Ironically, their very existence was an umbilical cord with Rasheed that they could not cut. Had it not been for the children, Hosseini would have set us up for a different climax altogether.
|It was practically a crime to be a woman at such a time in Afghanistan! Is it still!?|
The book culminates with Laila visiting Mariam’s kolba, the small hutment where she and Nana once lived and Laila breathes in the scent of all that Mariam once felt, many, many years ago. Laila’s insistence on coming back to Kabul from Pakistan where they take refuge for a year makes you wonder if she is stupid. Only for a while. Not to forget the boldness inculcated in her by her father Babi in her younger years which somewhere celebrates victory.
It is so enchanting to read the lives of two women, so intricately woven up by destiny, who are sisters, mother and daughter and more than anything, friends for each other. You are left speechless at the narrative style of Hosseini where actions are impressioned so cannily that you actually end up doing it. I once rolled my wrist up just to see how a baby does it and how Hosseini pictured it in his head! Such powerful is the writing! I hope this book is never made into a movie as no work will ever do justice to the way Hosseini paints this tale for us. Wonderful in narration and disastrous in reality. May the country and its countrymen and women find peace some time. May they be free enough to enjoy the basic rights to live, to watch TV, to shop, to sing, to dance, to educate, to work and basically, to be content!