when i was on holiday in cyprus i read a few books and by far one of the best books that i've read is this one
the story follows the lives of two women of afghanistan, mariam and laila. mariam is a harami, a bastard child, whose mother became pregnant to the local cinema owner in whose house she worked. after the tragic death of her mother, her father bends to his three wives and gives her in marriage to a man three times her age. rasheed is manipulative and controlling and mariam soon becomes basically confined within her home and is made to wear a burqha in public.
into this unhappy situation stumbles laila, a fairly modern child of afghanistan, whose parents are killed in the bombing when the country is in civil war. she is found by rasheed, who lives across the street with mariam, and is manipulated into becoming his second wife.
as the taliban take control of the country and stricter and stricter rules are forced upon the women of that country, mariam and laila's lives slowly become more and more unbearable - they cannot go out of the house without a male relative accompanying them, they cannot travel, the hospitals become 'male only' and the only female hospital in kabul attempts to cater for all the women and girls, is dirty and does not have the most basic medications. laila becomes pregnant and undergoes a caesarian section with no anaesthetic and a nurse by the door on watch so that the taliban don't catch the doctor doing the operation with no burqha.
as the events unfurl it becomes obvious there is really only one of two endings for these women and the story ends with a beautifully poignant sacrifice by one of the women on behalf of the other.
not knowing much about afghanistan before it became global news under the taliban's rule, i found this one of the most interesting journeys through the political history through the eyes of these women. afghanistan was once a place where women went to university, taught, became doctors, lawyers, professors. it was not always the case that we would think of afghanistan in the same breath as terrorism. it's so easy in the 'liberated' west to think of the atrocities against women in afghanistan as something that only goes on 'over there', that somehow the afghans are 'other' to us, and this has nothing to do with us, with our own human state, our own failures, our own potential. but when i was reading this book i discovered that these were women i identified with, who had hopes and dreams, pain, fears, who took pleasure in things.
i found myself more and more convinced that the privatisation of the female body that has occured in afghanistan is simply part of the same package as preventing women from having a voice in the public sphere of the church here.