Posted in Literature, Reviews

Kabul Stories

I hadn’t planned on reading two books set in Afghanistan in quick succession, but somehow it happened.  And it turned out to make two amazing books even more interesting.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is definitely the more famous of the two, partly due to the huge success of Hosseini’s previous book, “The Kite Runner”.

A moving story about two women set in Afghanistan. The book’s story illustrates both the second class, serf-like treatment of two women and their subjection to physical and emotional brutality that was allowed, enabled and endorsed. We also get to see the bravery, kindness and self-resilience of these same two women. Despite the harsh reality of the story, the humanness and compassion shown by both women while trying to survive in such a brutal and oppressive environment is very uplifting. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/128029.A_Thousand_Splendid_Suns)

I wasn’t sure at all what to expect with “The Taiban Cricket Club” but ended up being very impressed.

Rukhsana is a spirited young journalist working for the Kabul Daily in Afghanistan. She takes care of her ill, widowed mother and her younger brother, Jahan. With the arrival of a summons for Rukhsana to appear before the infamous Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the family’s world is shattered. The Minister, zorak Wahidi, has two goals in mind: to threaten the anti-Taliban news reporters and to announce the Taliban’s intention to hold a cricket tournament, the winner of which will represent Afghanistan in international cricket and give the brutal regime a cloak of respectability in the world.

Rukhsana knows this is a ludicrous idea—the Taliban could never embrace a game rooted in civility, fair play and equality. And no one in Afghanistan even plays cricket—no one, that is, except Rukhsana.

This could be, however, a way to get her male cousins and her brother out of Afghanistan for good. But Wahidi has a third goal in mind—to marry Rukhsana. The union would be her death sentence, wrenching her away from her family and placing her under Wahidi’s complete control. Forced into hiding and desperate to escape the country, Rukhsana realizes that Wahidi may have given her a way out, too. When her loyal, beloved cousins ask for her help, she sets about teaching them how to win their own freedom—with a bat and a ball. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13609888-the-taliban-cricket-club)

Both books succeed in weaving together the beauty and the horror of human existence in quite remarkable ways.  Both draw you in, as you start to care deeply about the characters and what is happening to them.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” spans quite a few decades of Afghan history, which form the backdrop to several personal life stories unfolding.  The characters become your friends.  You feel their helplessness in the face of the suffering they have to endure, both at the hands of individuals and as war destroys much of Kabul. You want to intervene, to help them, yet you also stand in awe of their amazing courage and resilience.  In the midst of everything that is happening, there is humour, there is love, there is hope.

“The Taliban Cricket Club” more or less just gives a snapshot of life at a particular time, just after the Taliban came to power. Again, there is such an all pervasive feeling of helplessness, of being backed into a corner.  Life gets reduced more and more until looking for a way out is all that matters.  The fear, the suspicion colour every encounter, every relationship.  The scenario of the cricket tournament is somewhat very unlikely yet somehow that doesn’t matter.  It’s a vehicle, to help paint a picture of life in Kabul at that particular time, and it does that beautifully.

Both books do complement each other in many ways.  The characters in Hosseini’s book are all from poorer, less educated backgrounds, whereas Rukhsana and her family are educated and were resonably well off.

Political developments are reflected on much more in Murari’s book.  They do matter in “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, but only insofar as they affect the main character’s lives.

I highly recommend both books and feel that by reading both, I was able to get a much fuller picture of the country and the people.

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