(Book received from, and review written for, TripFiction.com)
Two women's lives in Afghanistan My rating: 5/5
A gripping, exciting and shocking insight into the life of many women, and girls, in Afghanistan.
This novel, which reads like a true story, tells the tale of two women, Shekiba and her great great granddaughter. Shekiba, whose name means gift, discovers that her name represents exactly what her life is going to be, as she is passed along like an unwanted present to whoever will accept her. Rahima, her great great granddaughter and the other main character, is born into a family where her mother has "failed" to produce any sons. In desperation Rahima's mother allows her to spend some years dressing and behaving as a boy. Rahima is thrilled to escape the harsh rules imposed on girls, however she cannot always remain a boy and this time of liberation is cut short by her forced marriage to a warlord at the age of 13.
Shekiba's story is told at around the start of the 1900's. Rahima about a century later.
There is so much interesting background of Afghanistan covered in this book. So whilst the story races along, and the chapters end with cliff hangers, the reader learns about the patriarchal traditions of village life, and the contrasting lifestyles in Kabul. The treatment of women, girls, and multiple wives in the family unit forms a large part of the story. Also covered are education and forced marriages as well as the entrance of women into parliament. The British occupation of Afghanistan is referred to, as is the fighting right up to the time of the Taliban and the warlords fighting against them . It is hard to remember at times that this is a novel as you are pulled into the lives, and hardships, of these two women; as Nadia Hashimi (the author) says this is a "fictional work made up of a thousand truths".
I don't want to say I loved this book, because of the many of the truly shocking scenes, but it is a book that gripped me from beginning to end, filled me with many emotions, and made me think - and head to the internet for further information The writing style flowed easily, and there was no sense of reading a history book (though key historical events are referred to, including one of Queen Soraya's speeches). It is simply a fascinating story of the lives of two women in a world where they have no rights.
The story gave me an insight to a world that I knew little about, but one that mirrors events that are frequently in the news. Not being familiar with names used in Afghanistan, I worried in the first chapter about whether I would get lost with the names, but actually there are not very many main characters, so the names were easy to follow.
At the back of the book there is an interesting interview with the author, and also a list of "questions for discussion" - useful for book clubs.