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Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

(Book received from, and review written for,
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.   

 It is quite a long book, 450 pages, but I was engrossed throughout it and whole heartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in the struggles of women in today's world.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Forgive Me by Amanda Eye Ward

(Book received from, and review written for,
A gripping excursion into South Africa's past        My rating:  5/5

This is a strong story of love and fear, political unrest and safety and finding out what is important in life against a backdrop of apartheid in South Africa.

The main character, Nadine, loves the thrill of chasing a good story to further her reporting career.   She thrives on the adrenaline hit of the next story and is not afraid of entering the scary worlds of drugs, wars  and unimaginable happenings that many of her colleagues shy away from.  Or is she just kidding herself that this manic dangerous lifestyle is what she really wants from life?

 Whilst recovering from being attacked in Mexico, Nadine spots an irresistible story unfolding in her old haunts of Cape Town.  Dropping everything, and everyone, she rushes off - thus leading the reader into an often disturbing tale of lives and relationships during the ending of the apartheid years.
The story line moves between the now and the past of Nadine's life, gradually discovering what occurred when she was in South Africa previously, and exploring her childhood, and her need to always run to her next reporting adventure.   Gradually her life history unfolds, and with it the reasons for her never stopping in one place for long.

There is a gripping side story unfolding along the main storyline, and I found it was hard not to skip ahead with the chapters covering this side story to find out what happens (but I am glad I resisted!) .
Given the setting of Cape Town and the subject of apartheid, there is violence depicted in the novel, but it is well written with just enough detail to let your imagination do the work, and no gratuitous detail.  The novel's main characters are graphically drawn, as you are pulled into the contrasting lifestyles in Cape Town at that time.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu is clearly explained.  It allowed victims, or their families, of political crimes to hear the truth about what happened, and the perpetrators of these crimes to be given amnesty in certain circumstances.    This TRC is a theme that runs throughout the book, offering no rights or wrongs, just a fascinating look into a different form of justice to that which most readers will be used to.

For the tourist there is little information about Cape Town, however for anyone with an interest in South Africa, or just a good story, this is an unforgettably good read.

I love books that I can get immersed in, and also learn from, and this is one of those books  - with an easy going writing style that drew me in, and held my attention throughout.  This is a book that explores a difficult, and terrible,  part of history, but in a sympathetic  manner.  The book is one of hope, love and trust, and about finding out what is important in life.