This was a tough read. If you care about women, it makes you want to cry out for them. A friend of mine from Ireland lent me his copy of this book and the first question I asked him was, was it good? He said, yes, and it is definitely thought-provoking. As soon as I finished reading another book for a book club, I picked this one up and finished it in four days. I literally could not put the book down. It is very well-written and tells a story of a man and his family in Afghanistan just after 9/11, during the Taliban times and after the fall of the Taliban. She claims she wrote it in a novel form based on true stories of what she heard told to her while living in Afghanistan. It definitely read as a novel, but I knew that it wasn't fiction from my experiences. I also knew that it's a very small representation of what goes on in Afghanistan in those areas as it is just one man and his family's story. It is also not a very flattering picture of that man's life and as for accuracy, I am assuming that it is accurate for that family, but not necessarily accurate for the entire society as a whole.
Sultan Khan is an educated man who loves his books more than anything in the world and he has high dreams of printing books and selling them to everyone. He is also the head of his family, one of thirteen children. His mother, three younger sisters, two wives, children all live with him in a tiny flat that used to be in middle class district of Kabul before it was destroyed by the Taliban and the bookseller, Sultan Khan, is a canny and shrewd business man, as well as a devout Muslim, who despite his love of books, seems to have learned little from the knowledge at his fingertips. He rules the roost like a patriarchal despot with a decidedly strict view of the role of women. In fact, it is through the women in his household that the reader is drawn into how truly circumscribed and stultifying life is for Afghani women, even after the Taliban is no longer in power. Khan rules his household as if it were a feudal fiefdom, with little thought, concern, or interest in the desires, hopes, and dreams of the members of his household.
But, what really broke my heart in this book is the youngest sister's story. She is an attractive and intelligent girl, but since she is the youngest, she is practically the family's slave ~~ always tending to the laundry, the cooking and serving the guests. She longs nothing more than to break away and maybe get a job as a teacher. She meets a man but her family told her to marry someone else. Even if she resisted and put up a fight, she would be killed like another friend of hers, whose brothers smothered her because supposedly "she wasn't pure and had a boyfriend while married to another guy". Women really aren't valued in that society other than to have children. It is shocking to read that even in an educated man's family, old tribal customs are still the norm.
All in all, the book was hard to believe that somewhere in the 21st century people live trapped in their own lives due to no circumstances that they have any control. What is so beyond my comprehension is that how the Taliban was able to completely destroy a country and culture and still have fanatics that believe it is the way.
Life in modern day Afghanistan is bleak, indeed. Those with an interest in other cultures will certainly enjoy this book.