Two words to perfectly describe this novel -- disturbingly marvellous or painfully beautiful. It disturbs you to the
highest degree but at the same time you can't help but notice at the marvel that this book turns out to be. It takes you through the traumatic journey of the two protagonists Mariam and Laila. The story is based in Afghanistan and covers 50years of the troubled nation's political history. One might wonder why is the political angle important in a story about two women but as the book progresses it is gradually revealed how the political system moulds the lives and personalities of these two strong and beautiful characters of Mariam and Laila.
The book has been neatly demarcated into four parts.
First is Mariam's story. It etches a life of an illegitimate child of a rich father and a poor mother who initially worked as a servant in her father's place. It beautifully portrays the love of a child towards her father in spite of the father's unwillingness to let her in his life completely. All the time he can spare for her is one day in a week. The anticipation and excitement of a little girl meeting her father is palpable in the pages. One can easily relate to the emotion being essayed. How her life changes drastically when she sees the other side of her father and after her mother's death provides fodder for this part of the book.
Second part is about a girl called Laila who is what you call 'daddy's girl'. She leads a normal girl's life of being pampered,having friends, attending school and doing homework with nothing else to worry about. She has a faint memory of her brothers who left home to become 'jihadis' when she was a kid. She grows up to be a regular teenager who faces the usual angst of handling relationships with family,friends and the opposite sex, raging hormones and responsibilities. All she wished for, was becoming something big in life, marry the guy she loves and lead a simple life. But snatch away that simple dream from her and you get your second part of the book. The extraordinary journey which this ordinary gal embarks,ensures that you are in awe of her.
The third part is where the main drama unfolds at an unforgiving pace. What can one expect when such bipolar characters are forced to share a roof following undesirable circumstances. What starts as rivalry between two completely opposite people, blossoms into unimaginable and unparalleled friendship which can put anyone to shame. The author took his time to write about each woman's entire life in details. This can get a little dragged up in between but it is necessary as it justifies the image either portrays in this part. How and why each woman reacted to the same situation differently is defined by the the kind of life they had been subjected to as described in parts 1 and 2. By the time they meet Mariam has a family but is a subdued dutiful wife who silently bears her husbands tantrums and anger pangs. Laila who was once a free-spirited youngster with just countable worries is left alone to grow up overnight and play along the game that life was challenging her with. You can witness each protagonists' life in detail all through her childhood, teenage, as a wife, a mother, a friend and as a well-wisher.
The fourth part is where you'll find yourself dealing with mixed emotions. It's a very bittersweet ending to what started as a simple story about two small girls.
Khaled waved his wand and out came a delightful collage of pain, loss, longingness, love, sacrifice, innocence, anger and hatred. All these emotions are personified in a larger than life manner. It is so real that the two protagonists will almost feel like your acquaintances and there would be a strong urge to somehow get into the pages and help them out. One can list out all the positives reasons as why this book should be read. The only con being that one cannot read this book in one go. Its so heavy a read with so much violence and pain thrown in between. I personally had to put down the book many times to shake off the insane queasy feeling that was in the pit of my tummy. But otherwise no other reason stops me from taking this book and read all
over again, the endearing tale about Mariam and Laila who are portrayed as the ultimate guides of how to endure the unendurable. They are the epitome of a woman's strength and show how easily they can transcend all limits to do absolutely anything required for the people they love. The impact of the story lingers on and is hard 2 shake off for a looooong time.