Like music, quality literature can move us emotionally; we can ride the crest of heart-warming waves.
Some time ago, I had the privilege of reading "The Kite Runner" by international bestseller author, Khaled Hossein. This week I read "A Thousand Splendid Suns", also by him, and also set in Aghanistan.
The author takes us from the heady pre-Soviet days when girls are encouraged to have an education, through the years of the Soviet invasion, through the Taliban occupation with destruction of anything to do with the arts and torture is a daily pastime, through the Mujahideen era when tribal politics are brutally defended, and to the early years of the new millennium when the country rebuilds itself.
Through the main characters, Mariam and Laila, the reader is introduced to the sorry plight of women in Afghanistan. A woman hidden under the burqa has no rights, and so doesn't exist. Who cares whether the women's hospitals, deprived of anaesthetic, medicines and bedding, deliver babies by Caesarean Section without anaesthetic, or that husband's systematically break their wives' bones with their fists.
The themes are disturbing; the reader squirms in discomfort at the depths of bestiality that humanity descends to in wartime when punishing by hanging, cutting off ears or hands is commonplace.
What is inspiring is the sensitivity and poetic eloquence of the language that Khaled Hossein paints images with, and we as writers can be inspired by it, and learn from it. Such measures allow us to feel hope in the moments of horror and depravity that are being described.
Both Mariam and Laila are pushed around by the male dominated society like pieces on a chessboard until Mariam, the elder of the two, breaks through her years of resentment and anger to take action- with disastrous consequences. Though she pays for this with her life, she at last she feels at peace and saturated with dignity.
For her part, Laila ponders on how every Afghan's story is marked by death and loss and unimagineable grief, yet people still find a way to survive.
And when Laila has doubts about returning to Kabul in the years 2000 and after, it is the words of her father that she remembers.
"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
On the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls."