The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

I came across this book during my weekly haunt of the neighborhood library. I remembered reading about this book somewhere, and decided to pick it up.

Lets just say that I certainly did not regret the choice.

The Swallows of Kabul is set in Afghanistan, controlled by the Taliban. Where a man and woman cannot even talk to each other in the streets, even if they are man and wife. Even laughing in the streets can result in punishments from the regime. The books main characters are Mohsen and Zunaira, and Atiq and his wife Musarrat. Mohsen is a middle class, educated young man, who in the madness of moment, stones a prostitute to death. After the event, he is wracked by guilt and shock to see the depths to which he sunk. Carrying his guilt home, he goes home and bares his heart to his wife, who finds it tough to understand what made him behave the way he did. His wife, Zunaira, is a former magistrate, who is now forced to remain indoors, cover herself completely if she wants to step out. The whole situation frustrates her so much, that she prefers to stay at home, and be the person she is, than step out,covered up in such a way that it takes away her identity.

Atiq is a jailor with a terminally ill wife. He is wracked by confusion of what he should do. His colleague advises him to divorce her and marry again. He protests that he can’t possibly do that – she has nobody else and she had once saved his life . He is told that he was the one who saved her – after all he married her – what more can a woman ask for. ‘She is a subordinate. Furthermore, it’s an error to believe that any man owes anything at all to a woman’. His wife is a woman who tries to do everything for him, even when she is so ill. There is nothing she won’t do for him – for him to be happy, and therein lies her tragedy.

By a cruel twist of fate the lives of the four of them intersect.

It is a sad, heartbreaking story. One that will stay with you for a while. One that I certainly can’t forget in a hurry. It also makes you think of the people who are actually living lives like that. People who have had their liberties taken away, who have had their identities taken away. It made me scared to see how easy it is to brainwash people, to make them react as a mob, in situations where otherwise, they would have walked away from.

A very thought provoking read. Something which will stay with me for some time to come.. 4/5

Edited to add: Just a little piece of information. Yasmin Khadra is the pen name of the author, Mohammed Moulessehoul. Apparently he was in the Algerian Army and used a pen name to avoid military censorship.