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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, 2005, * * * *

The Swallows of Kabul is a dazzling novel written with compassion and exquisite detail about the memtality of Islamic fundamentalists and the complexities of the Muslim world,  Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of an Algerian army officer named Mohammed Moulessehould who adopted a woman's pseudonym to avoid military censorship.  He only revealed his true identity after leaving the army in 2001 and going into exile in France.  Set in Kabul under the rule of the Taliban, this extraordinary novel takes readers into the lives of two couples: Mohsen, who comes from a family of wealthy shopkekepers whom the Taliban has destroyed; Zunaira, his wife, exceedingly beautiful, who was once a brilliant teacher and is now no longer allowed to leave her home without an escort or covering her face.  Intersecting their world is Atiq,  a prison keeper, a man has sincerely adopted the Taliban ideology and struggles to keep his faith, and his wife, Musarrat, who once rescued Atiq, and is now dying of sickness and despair.   The novel brings readers into the hot, dusty streets, of Kabul and offers them an unflinching but compassionate insight into a society that violence and hypocrisy have brought to the edge of despair.  However, the way that reality is narrated and ultimately redefined, once more proves the power of fiction to turn our despair into hope, to restore our stolen sense of dignity and humanity and to desire life when death seems to be the safest refuge.

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