I couldn’t imagine what life is in Afghanistan. Particularly as a woman, what could be in there for you?
I haven’t read many literature on Afghanistan but I have read and heard mostly negative news because of the Taliban’s activities. In my mind, Afghanistan is Osama bin Laden’s hide-out. It is a place where terrorists are trained and terrorist activities are plotted. It is a place where you breathe fear.
While reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini I came to learn that Afghanistan is not just a place where women were obliged by their men to wear burqa because according to Rasheed (the antagonist in the book) “where i come from, a woman’s face is her husband’s business only“, but it is also a place where women have university degrees, wear high heels and sunglasses, smell of perfumes and have painted long nails. After reading Hosseini’s book, Afghanistan, to me, had been humanized displaying the real, intimate feelings represented by the women in the story.
There’s Mariam, the “harami” (illegitimate child) of a wealthy businessman and a servant. She lived in a “kolba” with her mother, just outside the town where her father and his wives together with their children live. She never saw the town until her fifteenth birthday, a tragic day which marked the beginnning of her tragic life. She was disillusioned by her father who didn’t keep his promise to let her watch “Pinocchio” in the cinema he owns. When she came back to her house, she found her mother hanging on a tree. She committed suicide because she feared Mariam was not going back to her. After living with her father for a few days, her marriage was arranged to Rasheed, twenty years older than her. Living with her husband, she was abused as a woman and as a wife.
There’s Laila, the beautiful little girl in the village where Rasheed and Mariam live. She is free-spirited, encouraged by her father and Tariq, her friend-turned lover, not to be shy about her intelligence. When war broke out in Afghanistan, families where scrambling to get out of the country. Tariq and his family moved to Pakistan. Laila lost her parents as a bomb landed on their home on the day they were supposed to leave for Pakistan. Alone and injured, she was taken in by Rasheed in his house. Rasheed plotted to make her his new wife. As plotted by Rasheed, Laila believed a man who told her that Tariq has already died. To save herself, she readily agreed to become Rasheed’s second wife as she was already pregnant with Tariq’s child. In a Taliban-ruled country, she would be lucky not be raped and alive within twenty-four hours of being alone in the streets.
Mariam and Laila shared the same abuses and over the years they became each other’s protector. When Rasheed came to know of Tariq’s visit to their house, it was evident that Laila’s life was in danger. Mariam had to kill Rasheed with the only weapon she had, a shovel. She asked Laila to leave with her children and Tariq and she will be the only one to face the Taliban’s death penalty on her.
The novel speaks of the lives of these two abused women in a war-torn and Taliban-dominated country. However, Mariam is my true heroine. She willingly surendered her life to give a new beginning to the much younger Laila.
Rasheed is the Taliban in this novel. Mariam and Laila are the Afghans who are helplessly under the Taliban’s control. Women are, after all, the most susceptible to abuses. The two women represent two different strengths: Mariam’s submissive demeanor and silent suffering has an inner strength which allowed her to sacrifice her life for another’s new beginning. Laila’s more outgoing personality had allowed her to win minor battles for the little comforts for herself, Mariam and her children against Rasheed.
I still don’t know much about Afghanistan but I am now looking at the country with a more humane understanding that it also has people living there wishing, wanting and fighting to be freed from the wars their country had been subjected into.
Afghans have their national heroes as Mariam was a hero to Laila. Afghans have their own intellectuals and freedom-fighters like Laila (and Tariq) who opted to return to Afghanistan to build a new life, give renewed hope and spread education as a means to liberate. How long will it take them? How many generations? How many millions of lives sacrificed?
Khaled Hosseini is here to make us see Afghanistan and Afghans beyond the constant wars and news-grabbing headlines of terrorists and their activities. He is successful. If only for that, the Afghan people will be more understood.