Sunday, January 4, 2009

Women From an Alternate Universe

Kabul, Afghanistan is approximately 6,733 miles from my home in the Pacific Northwest.

I'd never really thought that much about it before reading Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. I mean, I knew that it was a war-torn region and that the women were subjected to oppression and intolerance. But I didn't wonder what their lives were like, what hopes and dreams they had, what their recent history was like. I knew virtually nothing about the upheaval of conquering regimes and chaos that characterized these past four decades for them.

Suns changed that. A talented storyteller brought to life several strong women characters who experienced relative freedom and intellectual opportunity only to have it snatched away, replaced by institutionalized lives of house arrest. And for the first time in my twoscore and five years, I realized that there are women my age who have not only suffered greatly, but knew what they were missing.

When we spent a year in Ireland, I'd had a little epiphany - I then understood that there were big hunks of the world for whom American politics was not the be all and end all. And I developed a greater empathy for those Europeans who'd lived in places ravaged by war. But those conflicts were far removed in time and space from the experiences of the Afghan people. I could relate to the Europeans because my ancestors came from those places. Asia seemed as alien as Mars. It doesn't seem that way anymore.

And that is the value of a really good work of literature. It surpasses the impact of a factual history text. It makes you care.

I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do about this new knowledge. The author's website provides a link to a relief organization which I want to check out. I will talk to my daughter about appreciating the freedom we have and making the most of our education.


Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

This book is high on my list this year. I can't wait to check it out.

stephanie (bad mom) said...

Superbly stated. It is so easy for us to forget that a) not everyone hangs on our every move here and b) we are bleeding lucky compared to so many.

I thought the author did a magnificent job of transporting us in The Kite Runner; I should check this one out now.