Saturday, 10 January 2009

Midnight's Children and The Bookseller of Kabul

I read two books while in Morocco - Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie and The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. Though I didn't realize it when I picked them, these books are both very critical of how Islam is practiced in their respective countries.

Midnights Children was recently awarded "best of the bookers", so I was excited to read it and borrowed it from a friend at work. I've read a few modern novels of India (such as the God of Small things and Q & A), and you can tell how much they owe to Rushdie's non-linear storytelling and reluctance to reveal the books secrets.

This book is not only epic in scale, it blurs the line between fact and science fiction with gusto. I enjoyed the narration, as the story switches back and forth between a first person-narrative and another narrative in which the author tells his story to a companion as he writes it.

Also borrowed from a colleague, I read the Bookseller of Kabul (sorry for the lack of picture! Here, enjoy this pretty picture of the leatherworks in Fez and the sea in Essouera). This is the story of an Afghan family surviving in Kabul around the time of the fall of the Taliban. Though the author is sympathetic to her family of hosts, she does not mask the injustice of the lives of women in Kabul - women who cannot travel, work, or live alone, women who are bought and sold for marriage and cannot go out of doors without full Burkahs.

I read this book near the end of my trip, and Im glad I had just spent my time in a relatively liberal Muslim country, where modesty is more about respect than shame, and where women can work and travel without chaperones. Morocco has many women who cover themselves, but many more that wear relatively modest western clothes. Women and girls work, though most men I spoke to looked forward to making enough money so that their wives could stay home. Unlike Afghanistan, Morocco loves its daughters - one man I met spoke about how he and his wife had adopted a girl once their sons were grown, and how much more fun it was to raise a girl. Its always good to be reminded that it is culture, not always religion, that leads to oppression of women.

In Meknez, I got out of a taxi outside the bus station and realized that the kid I had shared the cab with had been playing with the snaps and opened my rucksack, so that everything fell out on the street when I pulled it on. The taxi drove away, and I was mortified to see that my two borrowed books were all wet from the rain. Within moments, a passing woman had stopped to help me pick them up, and when I came inside, the boys in the coffee shop took the books and put them on top of the coffee maker to dry. That is exactly what Islam is about.

No comments: