Book review

A House without Windows by Nadia Hashimi, Book Review

Now here is a story from an author I have been meaning to read, a couple of novels in and she has made a name for herself in the literary circles. There is a raw emotional connect I feel with stories written by Afghan writers. Nadia Hashimi is one author I was eager to read and I am going to work backwards as I read her latest book first and present you with my thoughts on it. 

Nadia Hashimi is American born and had her first visit to the country just a little over a decade back, so it would be interesting to see her understanding and interpretation of Afghan women. It is true that we get an emotional legacy through our parents and their lifetimes which is why I look forward to this book.

A house without windows
A house without windows

Book

Title: A House without Windows

Author: Nadia Hashimi

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: August 2016

Format reviewed: paperback

Rating: 4/5

Set in: Afghanistan

Time period: Contemporary

Professions of main characters: Housewives

Story:

A vivid, unforgettable story of an unlikely sisterhood—an emotionally powerful and haunting tale of friendship that illuminates the plight of women in a traditional culture—from the author of the bestselling The Pearl That Broke Its Shell and When the Moon Is Low.

For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.

Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women, Nafisa, Latifa, and Mezhgan, whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells. For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment, and there they form an indelible sisterhood. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, her cellmates wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? Has she truly inherited her mother’s powers of jadu—witchcraft—which can bend fate to her will? Can she save herself? Or them?

A moving look at the lives of modern Afghan women, A House without Windows is astonishing, unforgettable, and triumphant.

My thoughts:

Stories that come out from Afghanistan are bittersweet, they represent acute violation of basic human rights. As rich is their cultural heritage and beautiful past it is reduced to the biggest human rights crisis in the world today.

A house without Windows
is a story where women are still not treated as equal. However, we also see a side of Afghan society where a handful of women are not only heard but are respected and some even feared. The plot represents two different lives of women meek, submissive and resigned in their homes but thriving, alive and strong in the women’s prison. The contrast was stark and gripping. The women seemed to have uncovered the hidden joy in their souls and found freedom in prison.
It is the story of Zeba who, married and mother to 4 kids, is accused of murdering her husband and thrown into prison while she awaits trial. Zeba’s husband had it coming is a fact no one wants to acknowledge; even his blasphemous acts while alive are conveniently ignored just because the dead shouldn’t be defamed as his children have suffered enough shame already. What is never said or acknowledged is that the man no matter how immoral, blasphemous or sadistic doesn’t give his wife the right to kill him. She should leave it to the higher powers and keep doing her wifely duty. 

It is only education, money, social standing and right contacts in Afghanistan is what protects the woman and gives her some rights to speak up and maybe heard.
So from the land of jewel like pomegranates, rich spices, mesmerising dessert landscape and beautiful green eyed people A house without Windows tells you a heart wrenching, captivating story. Story of a woman troubled by her circumstances and how she comes out alive from the nightmare of a murder accusation to take care of her children. Each of the characters will call out to you and make you feel for them, you will either sympathize or cheer them, you will cry or be sad on their behalf. It is a story which even with justice at the end will leave you with a sadness for a while. Sadness for the human condition in Afghanistan and I felt resigned at how life is in some cultures and countries, how unfair are the contrasts in which some people live. 

The world in many parts may have progressed beyond imaginations but there are still a few cultures where not much has changed in centuries yet it’s not untouched by modernity.

Book buy link: Amazon India

About the Author

Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents. She is a pediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, suburbs.

Connect with the author via her website

Reviewed by Bharti

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