Sunday, November 18, 2007

Off Topic Novels----Life During Wartime in Afghanistan

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Inc., 2003, hardcover $24.95, paper $14.95, audio compact disk $39.95,

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead Inc., 2007, hardcover $25.95, audio compact disk $39.95

CWL recommends both books for several reasons. The real war seldom gets into the books, newspapers, TV news. Hosseini presents elements of the human suffering by civilians during wartime, whether in wartime Dixie or wartime Afghanistan. By their natures race, gender, class, religion and violence are divisive. How children, families, workers and immigrants suffer is difficult to describe and sometimes fiction presents a more nuanced and emotionally evocative story than the very best of peer-reviewed scholarship.

Also, The Kite Runner, read by the author and A Thousand Splendid Suns, read by Atoss Leoni, are accessible means for a reader/listerner to widen their knowledge base of contemporary history. The novels cover about 30 years of Afghanistan history as lived by some of its citizens. What were once headline news in the 1980s for the CWL are now personalized through family history. Much of the news today is not about Iraqis but about Americans in Iraq. It is not a stretch to understand that the cultural forces presented in these novels are also at work in Iraq.

Text From Publishers Weekly
Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official. The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium.

Text From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Afghan-American novelist Hosseini follows up his bestselling The Kite Runner with another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil. The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed, whose violent misogyny—"There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten"—is endorsed by custom and law. Hosseini gives a forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status. His tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.

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