When I first opened this book and started reading in the middle, there was so much brutality that I thought, no, there is no way I’m going to read this. But then I started properly at the beginning, and I fell in love with it from page to page. It’s this marvellous type of book that’s like a dream and pulls you in, because it’s got this old way of storytelling that comes from the Orient, you know: that old tradition that had Scheherazade telling stories that kept her king interested and her alive for the 1001 nights.
So this is a book to read if you are at all interested in the world out there. It’s Hosseini’s second book after “The Kite Runner”. It takes you beneath the veil of the women of Afghanistan, and it gives you a pretty good idea of what life must have been like over the last 30 years. It was a pretty incredible time for Afghanistan, going through all those different regimes: the secular Great Saur Revolution of 1978, which brought land reform, religious freedom and introduced women to public life, but got stuck in the Cold War as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to put an end to the US-funded ‘Islamic’ resurgence. The Mujahideen famously won that long war in 1989. But then came the warlords, and more killing. In 1996, the Taliban seized Kabul and introduced ‘Islamic’ law. By 2000, they had captured almost all of Afghanistan. Under the Taliban’s 7 year rule, women were banned from jobs and schools and public life, leading to their total economic and social dependence on their fathers and husbands. Hosseini’s book presents in drastic and heart-breaking detail what that meant.
These changes had a major impact on everybody’s personal life. So this is the story of Mariam, a ‘harami’ born out of wedlock and treated as an outcast. Her life is intertwined with that of Laila, born into a modern, educated family. Laila is much younger than Mariam, and as fate and circumstance throw them together, they develop a very interesting relationship. There are many men in this novel, and it is fascinating to see how they, too, are victimized by the regimes or take advantage of them, which results in their being corrupted and losing their humanity. Next to the pain and brutality, there is a magical love story, so the reader is richly rewarded.
I’m going to read you a short passage from the first book, in which we find Mariam living as an outcast with her mother, but receiving regular visits by her father, whom she adores. (Click here for a copy of these two pages.)
And so this story takes you through these two women’s lives, who attempt to make the best of seemingly impossible situations. It’s that never-ending struggle that gives the story its life-affirming power. And Hosseini has dedicated the book to the women of Afghanistan.
I recommend reading this book in English, the language it was written in. Hosseini moved to California in 1980, and is writing in what must be his second or third or fourth language, and he does it so wonderfully that it must be an inspiration for any learner of English. Another reason to read this book in English is that it is positively addictive, which will keep you hooked through to the end of its 450 pages. And when you’re done, tell me how you liked it.
Learning the ropes – Die zentralen Begriffe
veil – Schleier
(child born) out of wedlock – unehelich
outcast – Augestoßene/r
intertwined – miteinander verschlungen
fate – das Schicksal
circumstance – die Umstände
legitimate child – eheliches Kind
to disown – verleugnen, verstoßen
disgrace, to be disgraced – Schande, geschändet/entehrt
to have the stomach – es ertragen
life-affirming – lebensbejahend
addictive – macht süchtig
hooked – total begeistert
Learning English tip of the week
Write new words into the air with your finger, creating imaginary calligraphy. Using mirror-writing adds to the learning effect. If you are a visual and kinesthetic learner, I recommend doing this as you listen to audiotexts to keep your concentration up.