Monday, July 02, 2007

Love and Oppression

I have just finished reading The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra,
    Khadra is the nom de plume for Algerian army officer Mohamed Moulessehoul (In the Name of God; Wolf Dreams), who illustrates the effects of repression on a pair of Kabul couples in this slim, harrowing novel of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Gloomy prison guard Atiq Shaukat is tired of his grim duties, keeping watch over prisoners slated for public execution. Life at home, where his wife, Musarrat, is slowly dying of a chronic illness, is no better. Mohsen Ramat, meanwhile, clings to the remains of his middle-class life together with his beautiful, progressive wife, Zunaira, after the Taliban strip them of their livelihood and dignity. Khadra's storytelling style recalls that of Naguib Mahfouz in the early chapters, in which the tense dissatisfaction of both couples is revealed. The pivotal event occurs when Ramat discharges his frustrations by participating in the brutal stoning of a female Taliban prisoner.
This story reminds me of Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xianliang,
    This more or less autobiographical novel excels by its emotional depth. It shows us the 'human' side of re-education camps and state firms.

    The main character is an intellectual democrat, who sees and knows that the Chinese common man has been terrorized, deceived and used as guinea pigs by the powerful. They were / are the (dead or alive) victims of the power struggle at the top of the Communist Party with all its expulsions and rehabilitations. As the author states coldly: 'The Cultural Revolution established a new world record of criminals'. When the inmates of the camps hear about another round of liquidations, they are happy that they already know their own punishment (at that moment, their work camp is a paradise).

    This book is also an impressive tale about the battle of the sexes with candid treatment of sexual and marital problems. The author is a master in the description of emotional scenes, sometimes as a violent participant and at times as a cold observer. But he always finds the passionate human touch. The dream scenes are equally impressive, while the use of humanized animals is highly original.

    This novel is not less than a masterpiece. Not to be missed.

Both books use tender but sad love stories as a metaphor for political oppression. One is written by an intellectual in a Chinese labour camp and the other written by an Algerian army officer. These deeply emotionally works of fiction deserve to be widely read. I note with despair that reading fiction has gone out of style with some people. They feel they do not have time to spend listening to the artistic expression of the human spirit under oppression.

I would also put in this class of fiction, Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky, a Jewish woman who lived and died in France during WWII.

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