Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

The first thing that I noticed about this book was before I even began reading it. It was originally written in French, translated by John Cullen. And the woman's name Yasmina is actually a pseudonym for an Algerian army officer. He used the name Yasmina Khadra so that he would not have to submit his work to army censors while he was still in the army. Knowing who the author of a book is is not always important when you're reading a book, but I found this detail intriguing.
The Swallows of Kabul is a story about two couples in Kabul under the rule of the Taliban. The book begins with an execution, another death that has almost no effect on anyone, as death has become so normal. War is the normality, and the Taliban has taken such control over everyone's lives that Mohsen, one of the main characters, has to convince himself that it was not always this way. He remembers being able to laugh in public, entertaining guests with his family, being happy. But he has not experienced these things in so long, they seem like the swallows of the title - they have fled with the arrival of war.
This book is a quick read. The almost 200 pages fly by. Yet it is not easy to read. It is tragic, the way the main characters' lives are torn apart by the week or so the story covers. In a sense, this is a book that mourns for all of the things that were lost because of the wars Afghanistan has endured: beauty, freedom, the ability to love, Kabul itself. It is a eulogy.
I have owned this book for awhile, but of course it took the RYOB Challenge to get me to read it. This is another book that I am using for the A-Z Reading Challenge as well (it's my "K" book). It also qualifies for two challenges that I have not yet read anything for: The Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge and the Lost in Translation Challenge. For the Well-Seasoned Reader, I have chosen books that have the name of a place I have never been in the title. And of course Lost in Translation is rather self-explanatory.


Melissa said...

I've heard nothing but good about this book, but I didn't know that about the author. Fascinating. Thanks for the review!

Eva said...

I've been eyeing this one for awhile, and your review has definitely inched it up my TBR list!

Sandra said...

I loved this book and have been telling everyone about for more than a year now. I borrowed it from the library and now I have to own a copy, that's how much I liked it. It's not easy to read but I think everyone should. Thank you for reviewing it. The Attack , by the same writer was very good, and original too.