By Chet Yarbrough
By Khaled Hosseini
Narrated by Atossa Leoni
Khaled Hosseini writes his second book about Afghanistan, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, after “The Kite Runner”, and removes burka (burqa) veils from the eyes of Muslim women. Hosseini shows the ugliest face of man, i.e. the self-appointed rulers of the world that batter and demean women; women that live in fear or follow patriarchal patter of obscene religions that denigrate equality of human beings.
One’s stomach turns when the story of Mariam begins as a bastard child in Afghanistan that idolizes an unenlightened father that refuses or fears to fight cultural condemnation of innocent children for profligate adult behavior. Mariam is an innocent 15-year-old, abandoned by her mother through suicide and her father through cultural guilt; her wealthy, culture bound father allows one of his wives to arrange a marriage for Mariam to a 40-year-old widow. The widow is a man who lost his son to drowning because of his drunken neglect; he seeks a brood mare to give him a new son. Miriam becomes pregnant; loses the baby, and her 40-year-old husband re-envisions his new wife as a failed jenny worth less than a lame donkey.
This is a story about Afghanistan, http://goo.gl/maps/cuwPG covering the 1960s to 2003. It opens one’s eyes to a proud nation, dating back to 500 BC, that fails to grow from an ancient culture that, for its time, met the exigency of survival but refuses to adapt to the 20th; let alone, the 21st century. Like gangs of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, tribes of Afghanis rule territories of a fragmented nation. The big difference between American gangs and Afghani’ tribes are that no, relatively just, overlords like a federal or State government limit the injustice of factionalism. Afghanistan’s effort to create an overlord is constrained by cultural bias that demands religious obedience to bring order to chaos. The consequence is the creation of a subhuman class of human beings; i.e. women that have the limited duty of being slaves of men and progenitors of future male heirs.
Hosseini offers insight to ignorant societies about why the burka (burqa), is a kind of comfort to many Afghan women but, at the same time, a symbol of all that is unfair in a culture of insidious inequality. The burka (burqa) offers anonymity and protects women from lascivious male appraisal but it labels difference and reinforces prejudice. (There is some confusion over whether the burqa is the same as a chadri–a chadri is depicted in the photo–the burqa may not entirely cover the face.)
The author takes us through two 20th century generations of Afghanistan to explain how deeply complicated change is for a country that has been invaded by many powerful kingdoms that have tried to dominate their country; i.e. beginning with Alexander the Great in 330 BC and more recently, the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Each invader left its mark on the Afghani’ culture and remnants of those invasions are a miss mash of beliefs that resist any single cultural identity; i.e. with the possible exception of religion.
The only hope for change is education but Afghanistan’s cultural diversity militates against cooperation that will allow education to bloom. The Taliban dominates Afghanistan between the U.S.S.R.’s and U.S.A.’s invasions; i.e. girls schools were closed and hospital services for women were either shuttered or severely curtailed because of the Taliban’s fervent religious beliefs and their odious representation of a low “place for women” in the Afghani’ culture. The Taliban remains an influential force and shows signs of reasserting itself as America leaves Afghanistan.
All human beings are born equal and until that understanding evolves into a cultural norm, Afghanistan and all nation-states suffer. Afghanistan is one of many countries in the world that are at the extreme end of inequality. A need for education is a clarion call in Hosseini’s second novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”; Hosseini paints a frightening picture of 21st century Afghani’ lives.