This is the third book that I have read in January. This book was very good, interesting, historical but left me very sad.
The characters in the book: Mariam – the illegitimate daughter of the housekeeper of a wealthy man who owned a cinema and was involved in other businesses.
Jalil – Mariam’s father
The setting was Herat, Afghanistan, when Mariam was five years old.
When Nana was pregnant, she could not be the housekeeper anymore and Jalil had a small house built for her far away from the town, across the field and stream. It had a table and two chairs. Boards for clay pots, a cast-iron stove with wood was outside for winter. A chicken coop, with a fence and a few sheep.
Nana would tell her stories with a labored tone and it was like a heavy burden to bare. Nana would have episodes which were called a jinn. It sounded like epilepsy to me. Jalil had three wives and nine legitimate children and he would come to visit Mariam once a week on Thursdays and she adored him. Once a month he would send up supplies and Nana would be horrible to Jalil’s boys who brought the supplies.
Mariam spent her first 14 years in this little house without going anywhere else. When she was fourteen she wanted to explore, go to town, go to the movies. She tried to talk her father into taking her, he couldn’t though. He had made an empty promise to her and she had made her way into town. She walked around and found his home and sat outside the gates all night. They tried to get her to go home, she would, they brought her food and a blanket, but her father would not go out to her. The next day they convinced her to go home and the driver took her, when they got back to the little house Nana had hung herself.
Mariam had to go then and live at Jalil’s home. It was short-lived and the wives had found someone for Mariam to marry. A 40 year old shoemaker who had a wife who died and also a child who drowned. They needed to get her out of their home. Jalil would not stop it no matter how much Mariam begged him.
The husband is named Rasheed. He was good to her for a while. When she would become pregnant she would always lose the baby. It happened through the years and as each happened he would become meaner, hit her, call her names.
She was kept in the house and could only go out with him covered in a Hijab.It was a time in Afganistan where women could go to school, work, wear makeup, nice clothing, read books. Mariam was stuck with a mean husband and stuck inside a house working. Everything she did he complained, one time he said her rice was dry and made her chew pebbles and her teeth broke and he told her good, that what it is like eating your rice.
This story is broken up in chapters, then in parts. Part 2 starts out with people in their neighborhood. It is 1987 in Kabul. It starts with nine year old Laila and her good friend Tariq. He has an artificial leg and is two years older. This tells the story of their families and right before the war with Russia starts. Eventually the bombs will start falling and killing people and hitting houses.
Part 3 starts with Rasheed taking care of Laila, her home was bombed and her parents were inside. It was all gone, they had been getting ready to leave and sorting things to sell so Laila had been outside. She was not in good shape but eventually she recovered and Rasheed got the idea that she could become his second wife. Tariq and his family had already left but before they did he and Laila had sex for a goodbye. She had realized that she was pregnant and Laila knew she would have a hard time without a husband. She said yes to him and consummated the marriage quickly so he would think the baby was Rasheeds. She was treated like the queen and Mariam was even worse, by this time Mariam was 35 years old. Eventually they becomae friends especially when the baby really took to Mariam.
After the war involving Russia ended then the Taliban came in and they are horrible. They had all the rules that women could not do. They had only one hospital that treated women with no running water. Women could never be out alone and always had to wear a hijab or they were beaten. Laila and Mariam tried to leave but were caught and brought back home to Rasheed. There was hell to pay for that.
The story goes on with sadness and drought and I am going to leave it here. You will have to read it to know what happens to all the characters. What makes me so sad is I know that the Taliban are back in power now and it is back to the bad way it was before for women.