By Nadia Hashimi
Can I just put out there that this author is gorgeous, she’s a pediatrician by day-job, and just chose to write an incredible book on the side?! Talk about life goals.
Anyway, book really is incredible. I will say the reason it is a Very Good instead of a Must Read is because she’s writing about Afghanistan in a really critical way – the jails, the way women are treated, the laws, etc. – which are all true and accurate – but these parts just ring a little more true than when she mentions the beauty, or faith, or just positive aspects of the land and country. Even the sisterhood that’s the ultimate focal point of this novel is shadowed by a very harsh critique of a sexist criminal system. And I think that stems from the fact that she’s American born and raised. It colours her attitude, and so it colours this book, which in turn colours my opinion of it. Whether her nationality should affect it? Well, that’s why we’re going to try get more of these country: not-USA’s next year, right?
The book centres on Zeba, who is kind wife and mother. One day, her husband is found brutally murdered in the backyard and she is accused, arrested, and thrown into a woman’s prison in Kabul. Here, she finds dozens of other women who have also suffered bleak and unfair lives. Justice is the name of the game in this book, and these women have lost, over and over. Her lawyer is an Afghan-born but raised-in-America man who wants to help his country (a bit trite, but she writes well enough that it comes off more sweet than sickening). And another important character is Zeba’s mother, Gulnaz, who is beautiful and feared because people think she’s a witch and who’s incredible in so many ways and she’s my fav. Then you have Sultana, a young journalist who is also fierce and independent in that millenial way people hate us for.
The book is meant to be a commentary, on Afghan culture and its changing legal system. But it’s also a mystery – did she kill her husband, and, if so, why? And it combines the mystery with commentary with a story that spans decades – delving into her mother’s childhood, then her own, then how this impacts her own children – and explores better than so many other books how things are interconnected! Their lives are. History seeps into present as evidently as mother to daughter as civil war 500 years ago to your current system of law. It really is a powerful critique of a corrupt system, and there’s a lot to appreciate about how many real facts she throws out. I just wish there was a bit more of a balance (just a bit, because it’s a tiny push away from that Must Read list).
And it’s such incredible, poetic writing. Literally poetic because, in prison, she teaches the inmates how to make poetry and it gets them through their days and it lifts their spirits – and it does ours too! It makes you want to clap your hands in support, makes you want to laugh out loud because yeah she said that you go girl – the sisterhood is real in this book. I will dig up the screenshots I took of this book wherever they are because everyone deserves to read a few of them.