Thursday, March 29, 2007

Life in Forgotten Afghanistan

The author Yasmina Khadra is actually a former Algerian army officer named Mohammed Moulessehoul. He used the female pseudonym for several years to avoid military censors, only revealing his identity in 2001, when he moved France. His 2002 novel The Swallows of Kabul takes place in modern-day Afghanistan, presumably before 9/11. In Kabul, a city among "battlefields, expanses of sand and cemeteries," the lives of two couples intersect in a way that offers an excoriating view of life under the Taliban. In this world, men go for years without seeing any woman's face. Here, the punishment for laughing as you stroll with your wife in public is lashings with a whip. And, here, despite her position or education, no woman can escape heartbreak when even comparatively reasonable men consider women subordinate at best and “vipers” at worst. As news reports detail the Taliban’s rising influence in Afghanistan, Khadra’s stark, slender novel reminds us of the country so many have forgotten since 2001 and of the identities smothered there, the lives beaten down.

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