The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

I came across this book during my weekly haunt of the neighborhood library. I remembered reading about this book somewhere, and decided to pick it up.

Lets just say that I certainly did not regret the choice.

The Swallows of Kabul is set in Afghanistan, controlled by the Taliban. Where a man and woman cannot even talk to each other in the streets, even if they are man and wife. Even laughing in the streets can result in punishments from the regime. The books main characters are Mohsen and Zunaira, and Atiq and his wife Musarrat. Mohsen is a middle class, educated young man, who in the madness of moment, stones a prostitute to death. After the event, he is wracked by guilt and shock to see the depths to which he sunk. Carrying his guilt home, he goes home and bares his heart to his wife, who finds it tough to understand what made him behave the way he did. His wife, Zunaira, is a former magistrate, who is now forced to remain indoors, cover herself completely if she wants to step out. The whole situation frustrates her so much, that she prefers to stay at home, and be the person she is, than step out,covered up in such a way that it takes away her identity.

Atiq is a jailor with a terminally ill wife. He is wracked by confusion of what he should do. His colleague advises him to divorce her and marry again. He protests that he can’t possibly do that – she has nobody else and she had once saved his life . He is told that he was the one who saved her – after all he married her – what more can a woman ask for. ‘She is a subordinate. Furthermore, it’s an error to believe that any man owes anything at all to a woman’. His wife is a woman who tries to do everything for him, even when she is so ill. There is nothing she won’t do for him – for him to be happy, and therein lies her tragedy.

By a cruel twist of fate the lives of the four of them intersect.

It is a sad, heartbreaking story. One that will stay with you for a while. One that I certainly can’t forget in a hurry. It also makes you think of the people who are actually living lives like that. People who have had their liberties taken away, who have had their identities taken away. It made me scared to see how easy it is to brainwash people, to make them react as a mob, in situations where otherwise, they would have walked away from.

A very thought provoking read. Something which will stay with me for some time to come.. 4/5

Edited to add: Just a little piece of information. Yasmin Khadra is the pen name of the author, Mohammed Moulessehoul. Apparently he was in the Algerian Army and used a pen name to avoid military censorship. 

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21 thoughts on “The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

    • seems to be a good read, and as far as the concept in the book well I guess we will never understand what it is to live in that fear, its only the people who have been there who will know.

      Sad situation there ..

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      • Yes, we will never really be able to understand, I am sure.. But books like these, makes me realize that so many people are struggling in so many ways.. The basic freedom that we all have, is denied to them..

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  1. All books related to Afghanistan are heart breaking no.Till now i read 3 books out which 2 books made me cry and was there in my mind for very long time.

    True… The stories stay with us, don’t they?

    I feel sad for the people who have gone through those difficult times in Afghanistan and now they are on a road to recovery.Hope they get enough freedom….
    I know.. Hopefully they will have happier and easier times ahead..

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  2. //It made me scared to see how easy it is to brainwash people, to make them react as a mob, in situations where otherwise, they would have walked away from.// This is how I felt after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. I think Afghanistan is an example of how little it takes to brainwash just enough in a population, to extreme radicalism. Once a few are brainwashed, they do the rest of the bullying and enforcing… I am definitely going to read this, although I am sure I would find it disturbing.

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    • ‘Once a few are brainwashed, they do the rest of the bullying and enforcing…’ so true..

      The book is disturbing, but worth a read.. As is most books of this sort..

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  3. Hi Smitha
    I’m always looking for good books to read and I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog with so many book reviews. Also went through your list of books you read in 2011 and hope I have the time to read a few of them. Atleast I’ll know what books to look for in the library 🙂

    Welcome here, Sheils 🙂 And thank you. I do hope you enjoy the books I liked too 🙂
    I also like reading books set in Afghanistan..they bring to light a different kind of life
    Have you read Three Cups of Tea?

    I haven’t – let me look it up.

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  4. Definitely sounds interesting..Some of the most heart-wrenching stories have Afghanisthan as a backdrop.Let me see if my library has this.

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  5. This doesn’t sound like the kind of book that I normally read, but it does sound very interesting. Will check it out sometime.

    Love the way you write your reviews. Makes me want to grab the book immediately. 🙂

    Thank you 🙂 Makes me feel better about doing reviews – I always worry that I will not do a book justice with my reviews..

    Some books are just so heartbreaking, no? It is all the more heartbreaking when you realise that they are based on real life, people, and countries – that people have been in a situation that you cannot even imagine yourself being. 😦

    Absolutely! They make you think, don’t they? And open our eyes to a world which we cannot even begin to imagine..

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  6. I was very disturbed for a long time after I read a ‘Thousand Splendid Suns’ I felt so so guilty for being able to enjoy so much freedom when women in Afghanistan were suffering so much…this book seems to be in similar lines na

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  7. Disturbing. Ever since I read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (quite recently- I resisted reading it for a long time!), there is a choked up feeling I have every time I think of how terrible it must have been (still is, in a lot of places) for women, during the time of the Taliban. Am not sure I can read this at all… at least Khaled Hoseni’s book ended on a slightly uplifting note…

    This book is equally disturbing.. and yes, it does not end on an uplifting note either..

    I’ve said this before, but I’d just like to say it again… I like the way you review 🙂

    Thank you so much! Coming from you, it is a huge compliment 🙂 I did not review for a long time, because I was not sure if I could do justice to the books.. I would hate to put off someone from a book because of my review, you know..

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