House Without Windows

“The message, the rain, the divine light comes through my window,
Falling into my house from my origins
Hell is that house without a window.”
Part of the Epigraph in the book, accredited to Rumi.

House without windows

This is another of the books my daughter gave me for Christmas.  It is a big book, in excess of 400 pages, so it was one to read when I could just sit with nothing else to do. Fiji in the sunshine was the perfect place.

And what a great book it is.  It is told by Zeba, and she tells us of her life before marrying Kamal and how her life turns out during her marriage.  Kamal is a spiteful man, he is self-indulgent and sorry for himself.  He thinks he should have more and be more and somehow, it is all Zeba’s fault.

For more than 20 years Zeba has been a loving wife, good mother and peaceful member of the village, but that is all changed one afternoon when Kamal is found brutally murdered in their courtyard.  Zeba refuses to speak and as she is the one to find him, and there is nobody else to blame, she is declared by the villagers to be the killer.   Her children claim she cannot be responsible for the crime while her husband’s family insist she is and one of his brothers tries to take the law into his own hands, attempting to strangle her.  She is taken into custody and sent to the women’s prison.  Here she finds herself surrounded by women who in many cases, have been wrongfully imprisoned but through lack of access to qualified defence lawyers here they must remain.  She forms an unlikely sisterhood with these women who are removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside the walls but who feel a safety within the walls.

We are introduced to her Mother who is a shaman/healer/setter of curses and not always in a good way.  But she loves her estranged daughter and resolves to use her magic powers to help her if at all possible.

Early in the book, we are introduced to Yusuf, the lawyer, and his family who have escaped Afghanistan and settled in the US.  This shows another side of Afghan life as it is lived today.

Yusuf, Zeba’s lawyer, is fighting on her behalf and is trying to make sense of the law as now being portrayed and acted upon, but he is at a loss how to help his client who refuses to communicate or help him in any way.

A large part of the book takes place in the prison and Zeba’s coming to terms with the other inmates.  And while I wanted a positive outcome for the woman with whom I had developed a strong connection, I didn’t see how it could be without ruining the integrity of the book and its characters.

Nadia Hashimi is an American born Afghani woman and she has delved deeply into the lives of ordinary women who strive to live within the law, which is particularly hard as the law is constantly changing.  She introduces both traditional and newer Afghan culture and history giving the reader a sense of understanding of both ways, although of course to really understand one would have to delve more deeply than can be shown in a book of fiction.

I highly recommend this book to all and while it is gripping and somewhat horrifying in part it is most certainly a good read.  And though it is fiction I am sure that there is a good deal of fact interspersed with Hashimi’s story.

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