Reading to understand the other…

This summer I have been reading some literature in an attempt to combine my leisure time with an understanding of Islamic cultures far removed from my own experience.

I am not sure I picked the right source material.

Firstly I read this book.

a thousand splendid suns

I enjoyed the Kite Runner previously, which dealt with a similar period in the history of Afghanistan- but from a very different perspective. This book is beautifully written, with characters that draw you in, and stories that make you sad and glad.

Next I read this book.

the septembers of shiraz

It tells the story of an Iranian family at the end of the Shah’s rule in Iran, and of the Islamic revolution, and the subsequent persecution of the countries rich elite.

Both tell their stories well. The cultures and traditions of their countries felt vibrant and real. I felt the loss of something wonderful as the stories described the rise of religious intolerance that swept away and suppressed older traditions.

Typified perhaps by the blowing up of the Buddhas of Bamyan.

Both engage with the circumstances that resulted in the rise to power of the Extremists- the involvement of foreign powers, the cycles of violence and civil war. The ungrace that hardens peoples hearts towards unyeilding doctrines and bitter prescriptions for their enforcement.

But I wonder a little about both of these novels- written by naturalised Americans, who arrived in the USA as refugees fleeing from homelands. Their novels reflected both their own personal history, and the dominant perspectives and ideologies of their chosen countries.

So the bad guys were really bad- and were mostly Islamic extremists.

And the survivors fled towards democracy, enlightenment and freedom- in the West.

Accepting that many have indeed made this journey, including the authors themselves, I still wonder at the easy distinctions being made. And how the market in the USA is hungry for these stories, but blind to others.

I can not help but think that there are other stories being told. And eventually we will hear them too- not necessarily contradictory ones, but rather ones that complete a picture. Lives lived facing a different direction. Thriving whilst others suffer.

Like we do.

Hosseini’s title comes from a poem by the 17th Century Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi. Read it and feel the humanity that flows too in the blood of the other. Hold in your mind the TV picture of broken and battered Kabul, under a cloud of dust thrown up by tank tracks…


Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

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

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves enflamed, cascading from their throats

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures