Ever since I read “The Kite Runner”, I was quite sure that I would definitely read Khaled Hosseini’s next book, whenever it came. I was a tad disappointed when I read the introduction at the back that said it deals with two women and their evolving relationship in the backdrop of the Afghan war. First of all I am not all that fond of books dealing with war, secondly I have read quite a few of books dealing with women in the Middle East. (And no, I am not belittling the pains of war and the tribulations of women). But going by the first book, I decided to give it a shot and I am quite happy that I did.
While the book deals with the femine perspective on the war and their lot throughout their lives even without it; I was quite intrigued by the male characters in the book. All the men in the book are flawed at some level, even the hero Tariq. Rasheed of course takes the honours and is the ultimate beast, shallow, crude and a brute. He does everything possible to break the spirits of both Mariam and Laila, and for a major part of the book he succeeds. His adherence to the diktats of the Taliban is opportunistic and uses it only to control his women. However, he shows another side when he is pampering his son. It seems that he is fighting the truth of senility and he is fighting against it with his ultimate desire to father a son.
Tariq for all his charm and endurance is timid and unsure. He is almost a reflection of Laila’s father, largely ineffective. To my mind, it is Jaleel, Mariam’s father who is the real hero. For all his flaws he comes out as a purged man in the end. One ends up forgiving him for his actions.
The relationship between the leading ladies is very intricate. Their lives mirror each other’s through the book. If Mariam is unjustly treated by her insecure mother, so is Laila’s who lives in the memory of her martyred sons. Jaleel is driven by the need to maintain his position, while Laila’s father is tepid and scared. Starting off as perceived rivals, Mariam and Laila settle down and grow in each other’s company. Mariam’s maternal instincts come to to fore, Laila becomes the strong woman her friends always said she would.
Somehow the words of Mariam’s mother haunts you through the book – “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
My recommendation, buy the book and read it.