BOOK REVIEW: The Wandering Falcon – by Jamil Ahmad

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Title: The Wandering Falcon
Author: Jamil Ahmad
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Middle-East
First published: 2011
Finished reading: December 30th 2013
Pages: 243

Rating 3,5

“…One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things. We, you and I, and our people shall live because there are only a few among us who do not love raw onions.”

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In his book, Jamil Ahmad was able to write down various stories and traditions of the different tribes living in the area close to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The chapters are just loosely connected, but with this variety in personalities and locations he is able to give us a more complete view of the different tribes and its customs, laws and lifestyles. The daily life of the nomads and communities are in general completely foreign for those who life in the Western world but reading this book we are able to understand the life in this area better. Which is a relief, since normally the border area is known better for the terrorists who are supposedly hiding there than for their original inhabitants.

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The wandering falcon is the character who holds the book together. The falcon, also known as Tor Baz, appears and disappears in most parts of the book. And although it’s not the main character, it’s the one that keeps with you… Tor Baz is the son of a young couple who fled their tribe to escape punishments for breaking the tribal law. They managed to survive a few years with the help of some soldiers, but the tribe found them in the end and sentenced them to death. Tor Baz survives though. He becomes a character who wanders around in the border area with different tribes, travels over mountains and the plains, and lives both in towns and tents of the tribal people. He appears to belong nowhere and everywhere, and with his help we get a broader perspective of the situation on different levels of the society. The Afghanistan/Pakistan border: a place where traditions have lasted for centuries; a world full of extremes (both in culture and geography).

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Although the writing style is simple and the chapters don’t really connect, I believe that Ahmad was able to let us into a world foreign to most of us in the Western world. He was able to give us a beautiful portrait of the life as it was in those remote lands. Must read if you are interested in the area and want an idea of who are the tribes and how they really live.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bookseller Of Kabul – by Asne Seierstad

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Title: The Bookseller of Kabul
Author: Asne Seierstad
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, History
First published: 2003
Finished reading: May 19th 2013
Pages: 276

Rating 2

“What the sounds and smells do not divulge, gossip supplies. It spreads like wildfire in the neighborhood, where everyone is watching one another’s morals.”

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I’m not sure what to think of this one. After having read works of Khaled Hosseini, this interpretation of life in Afghanistan doesn’t seem that believable to me. Asne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who spent four months living with an Afghan family in Kabul. She then (in my opinion) makes the mistake to tell us a story of the bookseller Sultan Khan and his family based on her own rather colored observations. That alone maybe isn’t that bad, but she wrote herself out of the story and wants to make us to believe everything she wrote is an exact representation of the family life of the Khan family. And that honestly I cannot believe. She only spent four months with the family, and she was only able to talk to the only three members who know the English language. So how on earth would she be able to understand and know the feelings of a family with a culture so different from her own? The story itself is not bad, but if you want to learn more about how is life really like in Afghanistan, I would recommend not even touching this one.

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The story is about Sultan Khan and his family. For a long time he has been supplying books to the people of Kabul even though it has been prohibited by various authorities like the communists or the Taliban. He didn’t get away unpunished: he was arrested and imprisoned by the communists, and the Talibans burned books on the street. He still continues his job as a bookseller, and at the same time has rather strict views on how his family has to live their lifes. Women and men are strictly separated, and women besides have to move within a restricted space.

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Asne Seierstad doesn’t believe in this discrimination of women and it shows too much in the story. Maybe good enough to pass as a novel written from a Western world point of view, but it fails to show how it’s really like to live in Afghanistan. And I doubt the Khan family shared all their emotions and family secrets to a total stranger. All in all for me a disappointment.

BOOK REVIEW: A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini

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Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Drama
First published: May 22nd 2007
Finished reading: February 27th 2013
Pages: 415

Rating 5

“And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.”

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After already having read The Kite Runner by the same author, I had especially high expectations when I got my hands on a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Being able to take peek inside the life of a person from a different culture fascinates me, especially when the culture is quite different from my own. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two Afghan women living their lives in the ever changing Afghanistan of the last thirty years. Through the eyes of Laila and Mariam we see the situation Afghanistan change from the Soviet invasion to the Taliban and post-Taliban period. It is a tale of two women born a generation apart, but brought together by fate, war and faith.

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Mariam, harami (unwanted child), was born and raised in banishment, and forced to move her hometown and marry a much older man, Rasheed, after her mother committed suicide. There she is unable to give birth to a child; the most important wish of her husband, who then starts treating her like a house slave. Laila, fifteen years younger and raised under much different circumstances, was left alone after a bomb destroys her home and kills her parents. She was living in the same street as Mariam, and she and her husband took Laila in to recover from the shock. Laila was deeply in love AND pregnant with her childhood friend Tariq, but cruel Rasheed forced her to marry him by telling her that Tariq had died while trying to escape the violence in the city. Since being pregnant as a single girl is a terrible sin in the eyes of the Afghanistan society, she decided to marry him and make him believe the child is his.

Rasheed is happy, until he finds out the kid is a girl. He goes from treating her like a princess to the same treatment Mariam is suffering from. When she finally gets pregnant and gives birth to a boy, things don’t change to much for the three women in his house. The situation in Afghanistan changes though, and things become really dangerous. They were forced to leave their daughter in a foster home… But when Tariq suddenly returns to the city looking for Laila, things change drastically and Mariam killed Rasheed while he was attacking Laila. Mariam decided to stay at their house and sacrifice herself so Laila and their children can flee the country. And that is when Tariq and Laila can finally start their life together…

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A Thousand Splendid Suns is a moving story about three decades of Afghan history, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love; all brought together by faith. It is beautifully written and a definite must read!

BOOK REVIEW: The Kite Runner – by Khaled Hosseini

brthekiterunnerTitle: The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary
First published: May 29th 2003
Finished reading: January 5th 2013
Pages: 371

Rating 5qqq

“It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make ANYTHING all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.”

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The Kite Runner was my first experience with Khaled Hosseini‘s work and it is still my all time favorite (although A Thousand Splendid Suns comes a close second). I have read this story various times since it first came out, and it manages to enchant me every time. The Kite Runner tells us a story that is both well written, inspiring, full of raw and real emotions and simply a rollercoaster ride that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. The character development is very well done and the unlikely friendship between the wealthy boy Amir and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, will bring tears to your eyes. Not only is it a heartbreaking story of family, love and friendship, but it also gives facts about the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years. All in all it’s a very beautiful and powerful read that will surely appeal to those who like reading historical fiction and learn more about foreign cultures and Afghanistan in particular. It’s Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, and for me his best work so far.

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Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant and member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan is the son of his father’s servant and part of the despised and impoverished Hazara caste. Despite these differences an unlikely friendship has grown between the two boys. When Amir has to abandon his home and friend due to the increasing tensions during the last years of the Afghan monarchy, he never truly forgets about Hassan. The bond between the two boys is so strong that Amir decides to travel back to find him. The political and religious situation is more complicated than ever in Afghanistan, and that only complicates their reunion? What will happen to the two boys and their country?

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I love reading books set in cultures I am not that familiar with and the fact that The Kite Runner is so beautifully written is a huge bonus. Not only is the historical information really intriguing, but Khaled Hosseini managed to mix those facts with a heartbreaking story of friendship, love and family. If you like the genre and haven’t read this book yet, I would definitely recommend picking it up. It’s easy to say The Kite Runner belongs to my list of all time favorites.