Thoughts from Linda:
A Thousand Splendid Suns
With the Middle East so much in the news today and with September 11th just around the corner, we are profiling books in both August and September that are important for anyone wanting to understand more about the region and the lives of others. These are four of the best books I’ve read in a long time for this purpose.
In 2006, at a global peace conference in Ubud, Bali, hosted by the Bali Institute, I met Fatima Galani, Director of the Red Crescent (Red Cross equivalent) in Afghanistan. This was when the United States was engaged in the second phase of that war, driving out the Taliban and assisting in rebuilding the institutions of the Afghan country. I will never forget her description of the Afghanistan of her youth, where people of all religious faiths and tribes lived peacefully together and of what a truly gorgeous country existed then. As she went on to describe the birth of the Taliban, thanks to Russian invaders who set family against family, especially through working with the children to “turn in” and” tell on” their parents, it became obvious just how this fundamentalist and reactionary organization came into existence. It was a horrifying story.
I first read this book three years later and must admit that I have not been able to forget about it ever since. The book won many awards and was on the NYTimes Best Seller List for 103 weeks.
And, as I write this book review in 2021, President Joe Biden has ordered the complete withdrawal of approximately 3,000 US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. Biden gave an updated timeline earlier in July and said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan would end by Aug. 31. Just this morning on the news, the press reported that “the United States will maintain a steady drumbeat of airstrikes in Afghanistan as foreign forces exit the country amid rapid battlefield advances by the Taliban. The United States has increased airstrikes in support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we’re prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” wrote U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie in a statement.
The thought of the Taliban’s renewal in the country should concern everyone. There is abundant of their human rights abuses and the stories are too numerous to name. Their treatment of women is so horrifying that it is almost unfathomable. This book of fiction tells the story of two women in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion of 1979 through the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996 through the September 11th experience and the time the US and UN support drove the Taliban out of power. While fictional, their stories are gut-wrenching and ring sadly true, based on many reports and stories that we have all read over the past 20 years while America has been there at war.
Khaled Hosseini is a brilliant Afghan author born on March 4, 1965, in Kabul, Afghanistan, the eldest of five children. His mother worked as a teacher at a girls' high school, and his father was a diplomat. Hosseini describes his upbringing as privileged and has noted that he does not recall his sister ever suffering discrimination for being a female. He remembers Kabul as "a growing, thriving, cosmopolitan city," where he regularly flew kites with his cousins. All this fits with the memories of Fatima Galani.
He and his family lived in Iran and in France, where his father served in various Embassies. They subsequently moved to the US in 1980, when he was 15, and he eventually studied medicine and practiced as a doctor. He said that he felt guilty in many ways for his comfortable life when considering what has happened in his country. He is the author of this book, along with his original book, The Kite Runner, and the book entitled And the Mountains Echoed.
He tells a touching story of two women who both lead tragic lives and are united in a friendship when they become wives of the same man. Their stories are poignantly told with the backdrop of life in Afghanistan. This story tells of daily life in this most terrible of times under a system that illustrates the worst of humanity in so many ways. And at the same time, there is a theme of love and kindness that overshadows the darkness, ultimately revealing the glow of “a thousand splendid suns.” Those original lines are taken from a book about Kabul in the 17th century by a famous Persian poet, Saib-e-Tabrizi, and reads: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
Let us all hope that the Taliban rulers do not once again take the oppression and subjugation of others into their hands. The early indications are not good. Here are the rules for women handed down in Kabul's city as they took it over in 1996, as told in the book as a part of the story.
You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
You will not, under any circumstance, show your face. You will cover with a burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
Cosmetics are forbidden.
Jewelry is forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.
Listen. Listen well. Obey.”
After reading this book, as the Charlotte Observer notes, “You will never look at headlines from Afghanistan the same way again.”