It’s not really a long weekend, but we did get that extra hour by turning our clocks back, so I say we take what we can get and make the most of it! I’ve got a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar as a treat, even though it’s the middle of the afternoon on a non-rainy Sunday. I met a friend for coffee earlier, so my posting time got delayed a bit.
I met with my Volunteer Book Group yesterday to discuss A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi. This novel, set in modern-day Afghanistan, opens with a woman, Zeba, mother of four, crouched over the prone body of her husband, Kamal, a hatchet protruding out of the back of his head. She is wailing and is covered in blood, and it seems obvious that she killed him, but if so, why? She is taken to Chil Mahtab, a women’s prison, where she awaits trial. There, despite her grief and “madness”, she forms relationships with the various women in the prison, including her cellmates, who have either been imprisoned for supposed zina (“sex crimes”), or have chosen to go to prison because it is safer than staying with family, where they will surely be severely punished for dishonouring them. Zeba’s lawyer, hired by her brother, is Afghan-born, American-raised Yusef, a young man who wants to help one woman fight for justice in a culture filled with injustices towards women. It is a novel about murder, sisterhood, the search for the truth, and what “truth” really means in different cultures. I selected this book for the list because my members wanted more “international” books, and this one got good reviews and was included on many other book club lists. The first thing we all said was that we didn’t love this book, that it was too long and rambling, and that there were too many characters, plots and versions of different stories, which made it confusing. We agreed that the main story, that of a woman facing certain death for the murder of her husband, was an interesting one, as it delved deep into the Afghan culture, and particularly the culture in a small village from a young woman’s perspective. One member said she had no way to predict what was going to happen, and no idea where the story was going, which was confusing at times, but also kept it interesting. Another member said she couldn’t relate to any of the characters or situations, but she thought that it is important for writers to write about these situations and for us to be aware of the circumstances of women in other cultures. Another member said that the characters in this book seemed like “real people”, not just "items on the news". We all agreed that the prison seemed more like a hotel, a place where the women took care of each other, were fed and were free to spend their days as they pleased, just confined within the prison walls. This was a place where no men intervened, where women could look after each other without interference. Of course, they were all either waiting for trial or sentencing, or were serving their sentences, but otherwise, it seemed like a great place to be! After discussing it further, we decided that the book had to be so long and detailed, so rambling, and include so many characters, to offer a better picture of the village culture, where neighbours all know each other’s business, extended families in a single household are common, and everyone cares for, and gossips about, everyone else. Near the end of the meeting, one of the members who was first to say she didn’t love the book (she listened to the audio version, so she couldn’t even skim the text!) said that it was a good choice for book club discussion, and everyone agreed that they were glad they read it, as they learned alot about Afghan culture. Whew! What a relief that was, as I’d made this choice knowing absolutely nothing about it.
That’s all for today. I’m going to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book and stay in for the rest of the afternoon.