Monday, 4 February 2019

Read in 2019 - 3: Das Erbe der Weisen

Das Erbe der Weisen - Eine Kindheit in Afghanistan
Zahra Hussain

Another book I have read in German, and another free ebook from the Kindle shop.

Only now, doing research for this review, did I find out that this is not an autobiographical account of the author's childhood and youth in Afghanistan, but fictional. However, a lot of it has either really happened to the author or to someone she knew.

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Safia is the eldest of five siblings. She and her family live in a small village in Afghanistan. They are not rich, but they get by with a few animals, growing their own fruit and vegetables and her father training to become a Mullah. Safia is responsible for most of the household chores and looking after her younger siblings, while her stepmother spends her days playing hostess to her female friends, exchanging village gossip, drinking tea and eating too many sweets. 

As a girl, Safia has no access to any formal education, and no right to make decisions on her own. At around 13, her period starts; when her father notices, he beats her and locks her up in the house, as is the custom in the village. She is now betrothed to a much older man she has never met before, and the wedding is set to be in two years.

Meanwhile, the political situation in Afghanistan becomes more and more unstable and confusing. Most of the villagers are Hazara, an ethnic group who are regarded as sub-humans by other ethnic groups in the country. When the Taliban come closer, many flee; eventually, Safia's family also has to flee, her step-mother being badly hurt and one of her younger sisters dying on the way to Bamiyan.

After a long and exhausting flight, mostly on foot, the family find shelter in one of the caves in the Bamiyan rocks. But even there, the Taliban do not leave them in peace; they blow up the world-famous giant Buddha statues in the rock face and establish their regime, forcing the men to wear long beards and the women under the burqa. Of course, life was harsh and unfair for women before that, but now it becomes almost unbearable.

Still, it puts off the dreaded wedding, and Safia even manages to get in touch with the boy she loves, a childhood friend of hers from the old village. He arrives at their cave one day, with his elderly mother in tow. In the years that have passed since Safia's family left the village, he moved to Kabul and studied at university. After many discussion, her father finally allows Safia to marry her friend. Before the wedding, the friend has to travel back to Kabul but promises to return after three days.

A suicide attack in Kabul puts an end to Safia's hopes and dreams - her fiance dies. She moves out of the family cave to an empty cave where a wise man used to live, and dedicates her days to teaching the other cave-dwelling children to read and write as she was once taught by a friend, using the books the wise man left behind.

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Zahra Hussain fled from Afghanistan in 1999 with her three daughters, having to leave her son behind. She lives in Germany, where she founded an organisation to help build a school in Bamiyan. The organisation has its own website here, but it is only available in German.

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