Before rating me on this, I think you should first read the formal review here and then judge me on the whole.
I have so much to say and share about this book that I had to literally restrain myself while writing that review. A few chapters into this book, and I developed this theory on Khaled Hosseini. I will not share it, not now, I still have his other two books to read and pit my theory against before I can brandish it around with excerpts from all three. But by the end of the book, I am pretty sure I will not be disappointed, I am sure I’ve found a pattern. Let us hope I am wrong. Nevertheless, I did an experiment here, with a few characters. I tried to extrapolate after reading some, and before reading the rest of it. Take for example, I tried to extrapolate what Idris would do when he returned from Kabul. I’ll tell you in a minute. I am quite happy with how it turned out. These are more like notes I took while reading this book, and the book provided me with ample opportunity to make some. What follows may seem incoherent to the ones who haven’t read the book, but the discussions aren’t really meant for them either. So bear with me, and do join the discussion, I would love to read your point of view. You know every eye is different.
Sibling love between Abdullah and Pari is shown through Abdullah’s eyes. At a meager age of 7, Abdullah lost his mother while giving birth to Pari. He loved Pari so much that he traded his only pair of shoes in exchange of the peacock feather and walked the barren landscape barefoot, just to see the delight in her eyes. It makes me wonder how some children grow up so fast. At a tender age of 10, he could discern the love of his stepmother for her son Iqbal from the love for him and Pari. He did not fail to notice that she cared for them, that she was extremely patient with them too, unlike some stepmothers from Bollywood who would treat their step-children like trash, but he believed that was merely a duty for her. He reminisces that when fire had broken out, he already knew whom she would rush to rescue and who would have to save their skin on their own. Sigh!
“They were another woman’s leftovers”. It is such a sorry statement to even think of but this is the notion that Abdullah had in his mind, of what Parwana thought of them, him and Pari. This brings me to think that how we, in our negligence create a negative mindset in the purest minds of children. This done consciously or otherwise, is a sin.
The despair of having lost a dear one cannot be consoled or reconciled either. When Pari is taken away from Abdullah, he is in despair and by his perceptiveness, he knew it before anyone said it. He broke down before Nila in the market. “To save the hand, a finger has to be chopped off”. No potion in this world can erase the memories permanently.
But Parwana too had a hard life. A life full of guilt and secrets. I cannot be too sure if she’d accidentally pushed Masooma off the branch, but the agony, that pain when the spine broke, I couldn’t bear it, I wanted to shout “You did it to her”. Such grim details make me shiver. No one knew, no one has to, anymore. Masooma was said to be an angel when she was born. Her angelic nature is corroborated when she asks Parwana to leave her in the middle of nowhere with an overdose of opium. It is heart breaking and I wished that she was rescued and treated well in some part of the world, only to come back into picture later in the novel. But it was a dead end.
When Nabi literally sold Pari to the Wahdatis, blinded in desire as he was, though he knew it was abortive, why am I reminded of the song ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Issak
The world was on fire and no one could save me but you.
It's strange what desire will make foolish people do.
I never dreamed that I'd meet somebody like you.
And I never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you.
But he grew old, and wise too. It is reflected well when he says, “I have lived a long time… and one thing I have come to see is that one is well served by a degree of both humility and charity when judging the inner workings of another person’s heart.” Further down the story, he gives another pearl of wisdom when he says, “They say, find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose and likely one you never had in mind.”
Nabi, no matter how blinded by his naiveté of youth and his crush on Nila, was a good man. When aids flew into Kabul to help reconstruct it from the ruins of what was left of it after the war against Taliban, he made an acute observation how the people of the country had changed over time. He lets Mr. Markos live in his house without charge when he could have ‘fleeced’ him, like all others were doing to these foreign aid providers. Nabi said, “You have left behind your country, your friends, family…for us… how could I profit off you?” The young translator Afghan had tossed his hands up and chuckled with dismay. “This country has changed; it was not always like this Mr. Markos”.
I took a liking for Idris’ character. Silent, discrete and observant. His point of view has been elucidated in much beauty in this book, both good and bad. In fact, the book has not been told from the author’s perspective, he has created a story through the eyes of many characters, Idris being one. Timur was more outgoing, more resourceful and charming. Idris wanted to hate that, but he couldn’t. I understand why. When Idris’ father died and the two went to the funeral house and were charged handsomely for that, Timur remarked, “Highway robbery…solid business, though- death – you have to admit.” Disgusting, and yet, true how so many businesses run profitably by this very institution of death. Some selling death, others arranging for the interring and charging high fees post that. Idris had this viewpoint I concur with, about charity, something that he resented in Timur’s braggadocio. He said, ‘…it’s crass to plaster your good deeds up on a billboard. Something to be said for doing it quietly, with dignity. There’s more to kindness than signing checks in public.’ He’s right, and wrong.
It is painful to live those moments in your head as the narrator explains how Roshi’s uncle literally massacred her family and she remembered it all in all its lurid details. It is violent even to think of it. What would one call such a person? Yet, family feuds are nothing new, take Mahabharata for instance. Idris is compassionate and is defeated with Roshi’s smile when she watches the movie. He tries to pacify himself, fighting, no, doing penance for the sins he feels guilty of, but has not committed. He feels guilty because he is trying to blend into something that is not his.
As I said I experimented with Idris’ character. I tried to extrapolate having known him a little from Kabul. Having lived in chaos for a while in Kabul, Idris feels that there isn’t much fun in the silent life of America.
"Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name."
~ Thomas Osbert Mordaunt
Explaining the chaos in Kabul felt like trying to explain music to Idris. No matter how much he tried, he couldn’t get it right, in explanations, the way he remembered it, the way it was. There, see how destructive music can be, that it cannot be described? Perhaps poetry is an attempt to explain music, but it is only humbled. “But he is annoyed with their lack of interest, their blithe ignorance of the arbitrary genetic lottery that has granted them their privileged lives”. That is a mind-set we common people have, when we return from an extreme place, flaccid that our lives are, temporarily inflated by the extremeness of change, and then, we return back to normalcy forming cogent reasons that we have earned it.
Idris in the heat of passion had promised something to Roshi, but later when his life took off again, he was weighed down by his own commitment. I extrapolated the story after the author narrated that Idris felt relieved when he received a negative response from the chief for his plea to treat Roshi. I extrapolated that he felt relieved because he had bought his excuse, his escape. But in the meantime, it will gnaw at him internally and he will either have to confide and do something about it, or just regret over a while and live with guilt through his life. I suspected the latter. Funny how the most silent ones can be the most brutal ones too, because their connections once made run deeper and stronger, and stronger is the betrayal. This was my reflex, then I forced myself to think of another possibility for his relief. He had promised that if he did not get funds, he’d pay the cost, from his own pocket. Now, he was unencumbered by the formalities of corporate and could just get Roshi treated right away. I wasn’t wrong. But Idris wasn’t a bad fellow.
The push and pull of emotions, Idris had an understanding of life too. He looked lovingly at his sleeping children and knew that soon he and Nahil would be replaced by other objects, and other people in their children’s hearts. Such is everyone’s life, mundane and yet, special.
I think he got his payback, when Roshi wrote to him in English, on the cover of her book. It was well served, apt. But this reveals a rather interesting character in Timur (Jan). I saw him through Idris’ eyes, and I could not fathom he would turn out to be such a gem. That is why I said that Idris was right and wrong when he talked of charity. It was Timur, he took me by surprise. Extroverted and yet too observant. He knew what emotional bonds could do to him. He had told Idris to not get too attached to Roshi when he had learned that Idris was watching movies sitting by her side in the hospital. He probably knew Idris very well and wanted to save him. But Idris in his defiance, and I dare say jealously, wanted to take this one moment of fame. But he failed, Timur didn’t. Timur has earned my respect. He reminds me of Casanova, a man I respect for his intellect.
Now, there is a part by Nila Wahdati that couldn’t have been put in more beautiful words,
“I see the creative process as a necessarily thievish undertaking. Dig beneath a beautiful piece of writing, Monsieur Boustouler, and you will find all the manner of dishonour. Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly.”
Isn’t that true and powerful and beautiful. A lovely lady remarked me on this post that I had stolen her idea on it and if I had read this piece before she’d prodded me with such accusation, no matter how true it is, I’d have quoted this. I had tried to capture this pick pocketing of ideas in this post, but that isn't as succinct as this.
Adel is beautiful, and so is Gholam, and their conversations. His father knew that he was wrong, and he tried to shield Adel from it. Gholam just opened the gates, and as the author said, Adel’s father pushed him. He knew what would become of him, in what way would he be loving his father. It is sad, but true.
Then there is Madaline telling about mean men. “and what I’ve learned is that you dig a little and you find they’re all the same, give or take. Some are more polished, granted. They may come with a bit of charm – or a lot – and that can fool you. But really they’re all unhappy little boys sloshing around in their won rage. They feel wronged. They haven’t been given their due. No one loved them enough. Of course they expect you to love them. They want to be held, rocked, reassured. But it’s a mistake to give it to them. They can’t accept it. They can’t accept the very thing they’re needing. They end up hating you for it. And it never ends because they can’t hate you enough. It never ends – the misery, the apologies, the promises, the reneging, the wretchedness of it all…” There she gave a quite verbose explanation and I have known one.
Then it is Odie, who has this wonderful philosophy, “In her view, people, even if they had behaved deplorably in life, deserved a modicum of dignity in death. Especially family.” How beautiful, and true.
Markos knew his mother well, and himself too and I remember writing similar thoughts once in my notebook, “…that I know precisely what she needs and yet how deliberately and unswervingly I have denied her, taking care to keep an ocean, a continent – or preferably, both – between us for the better part of three decades?” Pari also goes through same emotions. You know it is not hard, but it does get tiring.
‘A person has to have a flaw somewhere’ Yet again, this is one of my theories that I have discussed with one of my dear friends and he has laughed it off. But see, someone else made a story out of it.
Life did come full circle for Abdullah and Pari, and Pari. But was it needed now, look how treacherous it was, that Abdullah could not know that Pari was there. Fate had been unkind and yet Pari was grateful. It is funny. I might explain why, but this discussion is already too protracted.
Okay, so I’ll leave with two thoughts, one of Markos (although relatable, like all others) and other mine, the first being:
“If I’ve learned anything in Kabul, it is that human behavior is messy and unpredictable and unconcerned with convenient symmetries. But I find comfort in it, in the idea of pattern, of a narrative of my life taking shape, like a photograph in a darkroom, a story that slowly emerges and affirms the good I have always wanted to see in myself. It sustains me, this story.”
The second is a question,
“Did Saboor succeed in saving the hand by cutting off the finger?”
I think not.
And regarding the storyline, I’ll tell you a story instead.