This non-fiction book was written after the author spent a number of months living with a family in Kabul. The head of the family is Sultan Khan, a bookseller who has defied the authorities for years to sell books to the citizens of Kabul. The book essentially describes normal life for the family, with each chapter concentrating on a different event or aspect of life.
The writing flows very easily and almost reads like a novel. It’s constantly interesting, but always frustrating. Sultan is liberal in many ways – he believes in encouraging knowledge and education, and is glad when women achieve governmental positions. He believes in banishing the uncomfortable burka, and is an intelligent and cultured man. But for all that he believes would be good for society, he still treats his own family – particularly the females – as second class citizens. He takes a second wife (a young teenage girl), although he already has a loyal and intelligent wife who is devastated at his choice to marry again, and his youngest sister Leila is treated as barely more than a slave, for little or no appreciation.
The oppression of women is a constant theme throughout the book. For example, when a man decides that he wants to marry a particular woman, he has to approach her parents or the head of her family with his monetary offer for their daughter. The potential bride has no say in whether she will marry the man or not. Indeed, brides to be are not even supposed to look their husband in the eye prior to the wedding.
While I could not like Sultan, due to his treatment of his family, he was certainly an interesting character. However, the character for whom I most cared was certainly Leila. Reading about her life made me very thankful for my own life.
The book also features some interesting information regarding the history and culture of Afghanistan, and it’s easy to read style make this a book which I can heartily recommend to anyone who is interested in the country and the lives of those who dwell within it.
Shocking at times and always thought provoking – I definitely recommend this book, and will be keeping my eyes open for further work by this author.