Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves enflamed, cascading from their throats

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures

Saib-e-Tabrizi 17th Century

When I think about Afghanistan, I think instantly of burkas, bearded men, bony little boys carrying machine guns, dust and flies, degradation and terror. I see billows of smoke rising from the Twin Towers, the surreal sight of a plane disappearing into it in a ball of fire.

When I think of the women of Afghanistan, my only image is this famous portrait, 'Afghan Girl', which featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. (It turns out she was a refugee during the Soviet War around which so much of this novel revolves.)

There are so many things about Afghanistan that I never really considered. The people there are real. They feel the way I feel. They long for the things I long for: love, security, freedom, fulfillment. For many Afghans, these things have been denied them by forces entirely outside their control. I knew this, but I didn't know it. Few things can bring home to you the big picture of a people better than a close look at an individual life.

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, brought together by circumstance as the wives of the same man, Rasheed. He doesn't love either of them; instead he is terribly abusive to both--to Mariam because she failed to give him a child, and later to Laila because she bore a daughter instead of a son. The two could not have been more different, Mariam a plain-looking bastard daughter of a wealthy cinema owner, who refused to acknowledge her publicly and who married her off, after her mother died, to the far older Rasheed when she was just 15. Laila the blonde, green-eyed daughter of a gentle scholar who treasured her beyond all measure. We see them forging a bond as they survive life with Rasheed and under the oppressive Taliban rule. Spanning fron 1974 (when Mariam was 15) to 2003, the novel shows the Afghan refugee crisis not through the lense of a television news camera, but from the point of view of two wounded and helpless women.

At its heart, though, this is not the story of Afghanistan. It is in some ways a cliched family saga. The plot is predictable, the ending as satisfying as one of those 'problem' dramas seen on daytime television. In other words, you don't have to be afraid of it because it's won a few awards. It's not literary fiction--it's just a good read, which might change your perspective on what's been going on in the Middle East for the last 30 years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like my kind of book have already ordered it. Thanks for the recommondation
Jane N