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“The swallows of Kabul” – the lost hope of Yasmina Khadra

If you search Google for Yasmina Khadra, Wikipedia will inform you that the name is a pseudonym of the writer Mohammed Moulessehoul. He used the enchanting female name (which translated from Arabic means “green jasmine”) to avoid the military censorship.
Speaking of his book, the author explains that its main purpose was to show one undisguised version of the East to the West. The book shows both the differences and the similarities without jumping to conclusions. The book’s goal is indeed to reveal that people are the same everywhere – good or evil, capable of love and respect or bound to hatred and out-of-date traditions.
Of course, there are problems between East and West, the separation in words issue itself. Problems widely discussed, passionately argued about and profoundly researched. Everything seems to have been said. It was just the previous year when Sarkozy politically involved in the case of an afghan woman that was under sentence of death by public lynch. It is too easy to put the mark “barbarian”. That is why I’m not going to talk about Difference. I want to point out all those universal moments that transform every single act of reading into creating a meaning.
“Express” compares Khadra’s characters to those of Albert Camus. The living metaphor – the pearl of Rhetoric in Ricoeur’s analysis here is just a good advertising trick by the famous newspaper.
However, if parallel is needed, yes, the characters of Khadra are ghosts, hopelessly locked between the solid walls of their own terror, conscience, humiliation, anxiety, prisoners of their own demons. Their fates are liken to those of citizens of cursed city in the epic Arabic corpus “One thousand and one nights”, but this is not a fairy tale with happy ending. Alongside with the doomed city all of the heroes and heroines are suffering individual curse.
A horde of children, homeless and abandoned, inherited in their very blood the cruelty and hatred of the elders. Their games – the try out to kill a dog throwing stones at him or the rehearsals of hangings – they are all projections to “the games” played by elders. But if it’s even possible they are quite more sinister. Innocence, childlike behavior is replaced by callous cruelty and this is a hint of a reminder of the masterpiece of Golding “Lord of the flies”.
The hope is gone. It, just like its presenters, the swallows, has left the Kabul homes and it’s not turning back, replaced by the far more bloodthirsty bird of the war. And during the destruction of the war Khadra’s heroes lost their homes. They are constantly roaming through the streets, finding themselves loiter in a circle. No consolation is granted. The endless ramble is a false hope of moving forward. There is no other way of escaping the curse of Kabul than death. Their roaming is an eastern repeat of the mythical wander of Ahasver. God refused His mercy and they are in search of the cause of their misery – believing in His forgiveness or doubting His judgment.
The religious fanatism of the Mullahs is not their faith . The ultimate sanctions of tyranny  - not their law. The constant views of orphans, handicapped and old men are deepening their personal tragedies. The lynches transformed in every day routine are provoking the animalistic features, the brutality, the beast that everyone keeps inside. The roaming characters are constantly passing through each other without recognition, sometimes provoking questions, sometimes anger.
The heroines, on the other hand, are trapped in their houses, depending on their husbands’ will. They have to hide their faces under burkas – that is the insanity prescription of the law.
Friend of Atik – the jailor, advices him to toss out his ill wife because she is not capable anymore to fulfill her responsibilities. Atik’s friend believes that Atik has done far more for his wife, Mussarat, simply marrying her. She might had saved his life once but he’s made her great favor by making her his wife.
Zunaira’s execution is merely planned as entertainment for the high ranked guests that are expected to arrive for the event. It’s set to take place on the stadium, on the arena – like spectacle, like show. The human life has lost its value. “After all she is just a woman”, says Kassim, not interested in the fact that Zunaira is not guilty.
The paradoxical is that the dying Mussarat is capable of the greatest sacrifice in the name of love. She trades places with the condemned Zunaira, to clear the way for love and hope. This is only possible in a world that replaces identity with cloth. The fear gives birth to the humiliating hiding of women faces and silencing female voices. The love, the compassion, the gentleness – these are the things that are feared of. The heaven-like beauty of Zunaira is a strong call for hope for Atik. But it’s not capable of saving all - that is the sad conclusion at the end of the novel. The women – swallows of Kabul have lost their magic.

Published also in Bulgarian in


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