by Khaled Hosseini – Infuriating, heartwarming, appalling and affirming, this novel paints an insider’s portrait of the internal wars and strife in Afghanistan in the two decades preceding 9/11, by showing us the lives of two women. Mariam and Laila are of two different generations and their separate lives bear little in common, until tragedy (in the form of one of the many wars and conflicts to hit Kabul) brings them into the same household. Their struggles with each other, with their brute of a husband (the viciously abusive and deservedly reviled Rasheed), with the ever-changing world they live in, are the meat of the novel. It’s a world where most women have enjoyed an almost-Western level of opportunity and equality under communist rule, a world where those opportunities are systematically and almost casually taken from them. Add to those social shifts the famine and drought that hit Kabul in the late 1990s, complicated by constant danger from warlords fighting for territory and, later, by the Taliban seizing control, and you have the recipe for misery. Yet, somehow, in this wretched world, Mariam and Laila manage to find some comfort in their friendship, some love and joy in Laila’s children. The bubble of family they have formed cannot hold, however, when Rasheed lashes out one last time to irrevocably change their lives.
This is an amazing novel. It brings discrimination and war and famine down to the individual human level, as we see how Mariam and Laila are forced to live, to survive in a world that cares little for them or their gender. My heart broke for them more than once, and I was amazed at their courage and resilience.
The only thing I didn’t love about the novel was the political talk. I couldn’t keep track of the various warlords and leaders names and really didn’t try, as they seemed to change so frequently and to be ultimately irrelevant to understanding and enjoying the novel. Instead of trying to keep them sorted, I let them was over me and only really paid attention to the ones that were repeated a few times. Shallow of me, “American” of me, perhaps, but there wasn’t going to be a test at the end, so I am content with my compromise.
Highly recommended. (finished 5/19/2012)