An astounding, eye-opening book. Against the backdrop of 1960/1970s Afghanistan all the way to the early 21st century, the story charts the lives of two strong Afghan women and their will for survival in a society where social norms are stacked heavily against women. The book is nuanced and paints a very sympathetic view of the traditional middle eastern and Islamic way of life. Struck in particular about how the Taliban’s iron enforcement of Islamic laws upon their takeover of the country affected its citizens, especially women.
I think this is an important book for everyone to read, if only to see a culture drastically different from our own and as a contrast to our own lives. I can think of many people in positions of power in my own nation, sheltered and ever ready to brandish a self-righteous cultural pronouncement or two, who would probably be well served to take a minute or two to think about how it affects people of different racial persuasions, as it does within Afghanistan itself (because the Afghan community is also made up of different racial populations, and they too tell a story about how these racial distinctions are indeed, not distinctions at all). The society painted here is complex, and makes it simpler to discern the difference between religious duty and religious fundamentalism.
Culture is borne out of tradition, which is borne out of necessities of the way of lives of a community, at a particular time and place. In this modern world, I think it bears thinking deeply about some traditions, how and why they grew out from, and whether it’s still something that should be applied wholesale in the context of today.
How would you feel if half of your nation’s population is to immediately stop working? That there’s a clear gender demarcation where there are hospitals just for men or for women, and these facilities are provisioned unfairly? I frequently found myself outraged at some of the things Mariam and Laila went through, and what was done to them. This book is less about politics and national turmoil and war, but more about society and women.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, a work that forces me to feel strongly (and I don’t mean poor prose or ridiculous plots/stories) is automatically a memorable one, and I surely felt a lot reading this. Recommended, on many levels.