Someone once said of me, "I found the perfect film for Harry. It's foreign and depressing." I thought it was pretty funny because I know that's what it seems from the outside. For me, there's no such thing as an ugly truth because only truth can lead us to hope. I want to know what's going on. I crave it. And oftentimes truth like that cannot be found in Hollywood films. So yeah, foreign and honest - as I like to call it - that's me.
Some points can be driven home too much, though. Nazis were evil, I get that. Don't need any more lists of atrocities. But when exploring a new culture I wish to know all about it so I dive right in. That's what I did with Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and I have been forever branded by it. Mankind in all her sorrow can be so very wretched steeped in our fear and ignorance. As with any piece of cloth, we are only as strong as our weakest point lest we tear completely in two.
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" refers to a 17th century poem:
"Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
"Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
"And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls"
It's an ironic title considering the horror to follow. Spanning over approximately 45 years ending in 2003, the book recounts life in Afghanistan during times of both relative peace and turmoil from a female point of view. And let's just say even in the best of times the insecurity of the Middle Eastern male is off the charts. Women are emotionally caged and brutalized stemming from a culture rooted thousands of years ago. It is said the eyes of the Afghan soldier are dead and chill the soul when seen. Just imagine those same eyes coming home to live with you.
As with any society, poverty is an unforgivable sin. Combine that with being female and the results can be tragic. I would not recommend this book for American teenage girls. This is the type of thing that must be sought out. The girl Miriam mired in poverty is basically sold to a man with hands cold as ice and a heart bent in agony. She is a prisoner in her own home to live at her vastly older husband's mercy. It is said we always hate those whom we wrong and thus Miriam became an object of his hate.
Her sentence was for life.
In the corners and edges of this existence she tries to plant flowers of hope. She swings between anger and despair finally settling on bitter apathy. What would you do if you were thusly trapped? What is life without hope? Without the full expression of every soul we can never know our full truth. But in Afghanistan, where empires go to die, the fabric of society is but a gaping hole, an abscess in the world, and like an aching tooth is crippling to the body.
I remember getting an email in 1999 from an internet friend asking me to sign a petition protesting the rights abuses against the women of Afghanistan. That was my first hint at the backwards nature of the region. The Taliban had taken over who then legalized - and mandated - cruelty towards women. The book details each age: from the pre-Soviet invasion, to the Communist rule of Kabul, to the internecine warfare following the Soviet departure that gave rise to the evil men in black turbans.
As each age passes the rights of women change. Was surprising to read how progressive the Communists had been in this regard. Of course, the warfare alone was terror enough watching friends and neighbors be caught in the crossfire, blown to bits as images of body parts haunt your memory. Millions fled to Pakistan but little salvation was to be had there living under little more than a tent in camps ravaged with disease. It was hell with all exits closed.
What's most touching, though, is the human resiliency: small moments of banding together seem as grand as any peace conference, the sharing of sorrows that build bridges between enemies, planting flowers in the battlefield because life must go on. Any scrap of humanity in this context is heroic. Thank God a book like this was written to capture these treasures. If only our own efforts in the region had been more noble we could have been as water to these seeds.
As the rips in society are not mended both here and around the world, as more and more people live in virtual slavery that robs the joy of life, the more tragedy will grow. What can one do when placed into that situation? All we can do is try to hold on to our humanity even in the face of futility. If one can do that, one can save one's self. But somehow, that doesn't seem enough.