Just a quick book recommendation: go out and buy A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. Pick up his earlier book, The Kite Runner, at the same time.
Hosseini is one of the most powerful novelists I’ve come across for some time, and he has now turned his attention to telling the story of the women of Afghanistan. I’m still a couple of chapters from the end, and I’ve already cried. Twice. You can read an extract here.
To be honest, I’m a novel-reader at heart. I think I’ve managed one non-fiction book this year. But Hosseini maintains a perfect balance with this latest book, which manages to be a skillful, Canon-worthy piece of art and a way into the story of what it is like to be a woman in Afghanistan all at once.
It fills in those gaps: most likely, we all know some of the recent history of Afghanistan. But Hosseini colours in those missing chunks; the bits the Western media did not report and the bits that have become hazy now that it barely reports anything about the country at all. He makes it real. After reading this book, go and read about the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Most recently, feminist MP Malalai Joya was expelled from the Afghan parliament, after she criticised some MPs who used to be warlords. In the past, she has had water bottles thrown at her and been threatened with rape. She was quoted in the Independent:
“Talking about women’s rights in Afghanistan is a joke. There really have not been any fundamental changes, the Taliban were driven off by the Americans and the British but then they were allowed to be replaced by warlords who also simply cannot see women as equals.”
“Those of us who speak up are targets. My friends and colleagues have been assassinated. They have tried to kill me four times, the last attack was in Kabul which is the capital of this country which is supposed to be secure and democratic. And then if you try to speak up in parliament their first reaction is to try to gag you.”