Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Place: New York
Exam times produce miracles; songs we don't usually care sounds truly meaningful, scenarios that we usually pass with a dry glance opens with a new beauty and oh, what to say even I wait for news time everyday (only time allotted to TV). Something similar got in me while reading this book; while scrolling through each page I felt someone like my hostel warden is going to catch me (obviously I was supposed to do something else). Even the mess bell sounded a burden. Sure, the novel has its charm, along with one more feeling -- depression.
And today it is woman's day, around me there are the beginnings of festivities and awareness programs. Let's hope that a time will come without anymore woman's days, leaving all days to them.
Novel revolves around two women -- Mariam and Laila. Mariam lives in a kolba on the outskirts of Herat with her embittered mother and her rich father Jalil is in the city with his three wives and nine children. He pays a usual visit on Thursdays. As a harami (illegitimate child), little Mariam is not acceptable to the outside world. But on her fifteenth birthday she breeches this unwritten rules to go and see Jalil, and is fated to spend the night outside his home in cold. She finds her mother hanging from the tree on returning home, thinking that her only daughter has deserted her. Jalil marries her off to Rasheed, a shoemaker from Kabul, who is thirty years her senior. But when she fails to produce a heir, there begins the days of beatings and silent suffering.
Laila and her friend Tariq also live in the vicinity; she has lost her two brothers to the war between Mujahideens and Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union disintegrates at last, everyone anticipates peace, but now the Mujahideens are cutting each others throat. Tariq leaves the city with her parents and their emotional farewell ends in the consumption of love.
Laila'a family too decides to leave in the end but as they are packing, a rocket comes down destroying her house and killing her parents. A severely injured Laila is taken by Rasheed and Mariam.
On recovering she finds that she is with Tariq's child and the news of Tariq's death shatters her, though it didn't prevent her from eagerly accepting Rasheed's hand for her unborn child. She gives birth to a daughter, Aziza, and soon Rasheed gets suspicious. Laila strikes a friendship with Mariam and together they try to run away but gets caught.
By the time Laila has given birth to Rasheed's son, Zalmai, Taliban has assumed power and tyranny reigns on Afghanistan. A drought that follow makes life unbearable and Aziza is sent to an orphanage. Tariq's unexpected appearance from Pakistan and lovers' reunion gives new twist.
Hearing the news Rasheed starts to beat up Laila, but this time Mariam intervenes and kills him with a shovel. Taliban shoots her dead; and Laila and kids live with Tariq in Pakistan till the fall of Taliban. She visits Mariam's birth place and finds the money that Jalil leaves for her on his death. The pair returns to Afghanistan and Laila assumes the position of teacher in the orphanage which sheltered Aziza once.
Something to think:
"Had she been a deceitful wife? she asked herself. A complacent wife? A dishonorable woman? Discreditable? Vulgar? What harmful thing had she willfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, the relish with which he tormented her?
Had she not looked after him when he was ill? Fed him, and his friends, cleaned up after him dutifully? Had she not given this man her youth? Had she ever justly deserved his meanness?
"Listening to Naghma, Mariam remembered the dim glimmer of cold stars and the stringy pink clouds streaking over the Safid-koh mountains that long-ago morning when Nana had said to her, Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam." -- 191