I’ve had this and The Kite Runner on my to-read list forever, but had never bought either of them. My boyfriend, great guy that he is, brought me home an entire box of books that included this Khaled Hosseini novel.
Mariam doesn’t know much about life outside of her house in the clearing. She lives with her mother, who never fails to remind her that she’s a harami— a bastard. Her father visits, but that’s never enough for Mariam. She wants to see him all the time.
Armed with the knowledge of his address, Mariam goes into the city to find her father, but he won’t see her. She spends the night outside his house, hopeful, but he doesn’t change his mind. When Mariam returns home, she finds her mom has hanged herself, feeling betrayed by Mariam’s love for her father.
Now that he has no choice, Mariam’s father takes her in. Prodded into action by his three wives, he quickly marries her off. Mariam must move far from the only home she’s known, with a man she’s never met and no family to speak of. And so begins her life of abuse and misery.
Laila grew up in the shadow of her two older brothers. Even when they weren’t around, she knew her mother loved them more than her. Laila’s father was the attentive one, teaching her and making sure she was always cared for. Her neighbor, Tariq, is the closest to a brother she’s ever had, and the love of her life.
When revolution rocks Afghanistan, Tariq’s family leaves, and Laila’s family tries to do the same. Before they can go, a bomb hits their home. Laila’s parents are killed, and her home destroyed.
Rasheed, Mariam’s husband, takes Laila in and helps her heal. When she is healthy again, he asks her to be his second wife. Pregnant with Tariq’s baby and desperate for protection, Laila says yes.
Mariam is determined to hate Laila– for stealing her husband, for giving him the children that Mariam can’t, and for seeming free of his wrath. But when Laila saves Mariam from a beating, the women realize that they need each other more than they thought.
This book spans multiple decades, and covers Afghanistan’s history. There are revolutions, regime changes, and oppression. The story ends in the early 2000s, when life is finally looking up for the civilians in the country.
What’s hard to read about in this story is the treatment of women. Both Mariam and Laila suffer multiple tragedies. Mariam sees her mother hanging, and is essentially sold off by her father. She is savagely beat by her husband, and suffers multiple miscarriages. Laila loses her family and her home, and enters into a marriage she doesn’t want in order to save herself and her baby. She too is savagely beaten, and is forced to watch her children starve when food becomes scarce.
And yet they endure.
A friend of mine, Jana, recently started a website that focuses on women dealing with trauma. The site is called Women Over Water, and Jana uses it to tell her own story, as well as the stories of other women who have experienced trauma in their lives.
Jana told me that
…the mission is about women supporting other women, and the stories are not just for the storyteller, but the women and girls who might be reading.
You may think that you are alone, but you are not. Whether you have suffered abuse, an accident, or a loss, your feelings and stories are valid. Women Over Water is a place to discuss freely what may have happened to you, or read about what others have gone through. Jana said that she wants to encourage and empower other women to share their stories.
If you want to learn more, share your story, or donate, visit Women Over Water.