This book by an Iran-born author and documentary film-maker paints a grim picture of life in Afghanistan. The Russian invasion. The haphazard resistance. The growth of the Taliban. Violence, oppression, opium addiction and human helplessness are woven into the fine threads of this fascinating story. The characters are powerful and convincing. It is a sordid tale of suffering and endurance, hope and determination.
Shirin-Gol, the lead female character, is a woman of substance. Though unleterred, she taught herself to read ‘three and a half books.’ The plight of women in this war-ravaged country is deeply disturbing. Where girls cannot study, where women cannot work, where the veil is all-pervading, an Afghanistan that god and the world forgot. The reader feels a numbing pain that is beyond tears. Shock, disbelief, sorrow, and a train of inexplicable emotions.
The author has an uncanny knack of saying so much using so few words. “In all likelihood Shirin-Gol’s mother, like all mothers in the world, suffered terrible pains at the birth of her fourth daughter, her ninth child, and in all likelihood she wondered at that moment how she would feed another child with her already weakened body and her empty breasts. And she was probably glad when she pulled the child from her body and saw that it was only a girl, because if Shirin-Gol had been a boy, that boy would have needed even more milk, even more attention. His mother would have had to carry him more often in her arms, they would have had to give a party to celebrate his birth and slaughter a sheep, rustle up some money for his circumcision and send him to the mullah to learn the Koran.”
The cycle of poverty, repression and hopelessness is self-perpetuating — it moves across generations with a cold tenacity. Shirin-Gol goes through multiple deprivations in childhood, is married at a young age, has several children, and lives life at a sub-human subsistence level, yet her spirit soars high above the mundane level. She stands out without being spectacular, and her never-say-die attitude inspires respect.
The book informs, educates, enlightens. It also entertains and tugs at your heart-strings. Amidst the pathos, there is a dark humour. Don’t miss any page, not even the acknowledgments, gracefully titled, ‘Thanks’. There are gems even there. “I thank Malalai and her brother who saved my life. I thank Rahmat, who protected me from stepping on a mine.”
Overall Assessment: Mind-blowing. Siba Shakib is undoubtedly a writer of substance. BTW, ‘Samira and Samir’ is another interesting book.
Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep
AUTHOR: Siba Shakib
Date of Publication: 2002
Contributor: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.