Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.
What I would say:
I was bought this book by my dad who had read it and recommended it so highly that he thought I should have my own copy. I read ‘The Kite Runner’ while I was at university a couple of years ago and remembered loving it so I was looking forward to reading it.
What I loved about this book, as I did its predecessor, is that it spanned the Mariam’s whole life. She starts off living with her mother in what most westerners would perceive as abject poverty and is denied an education both because of her gender and her social standing. She is the product of her mother’s very short-lived affair with a wealthy business man and, despite the fact that he denies her the opportunity to be legitimate, adores him completely. The relationship is doomed and Mariam eventually ends up marrying the barbaric Rasheed.
This in itself seems oppressive and I really sympathised for Mariam but her strength of character also made me admire her. Leila is similar – her family is torn up by her brothers’ participation in the Afghan army. As part of her story, there is a brief history of the politics of Afghanistan which, considering the country’s presence in western media, I found really interesting. Most memorable is how the Taliban developed and became powerful, not to mention the nuances of its control. I love how the novel is peppered with local dialect as the characters seem truly of that culture, which makes their perception of their situation more realistic – or that could just be me.
For all the praise, this book should be read with a warning that it can be really dark. I personally think that this is because the subject matter is dark itself but I would understand if some found it too much. Through all of it, however, there is a note of hope and of genuine love which, uniquely, is not romantic love – and all the more powerful for it.
Overall: In my view, this book is an absolute must-read of modern literature. Yes, it can be brutal and it is by no means an easy read but it gives an incredible insight into the suffering of women in Afghanistan over time and is perhaps the most heart-rending story of maternal love I have ever read.