Summary and book reviews of The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

The Swallows of Kabul

by Yasmina Khadra

The Swallows of Kabul
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2004, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 208 pages

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Book Summary

This dazzling novel by one of Algeria's top writers is set in the hot, dusty streets of Kabul under Taliban rule and offers a compassionate insight into a society brought to the edge of despair by hypocrisy and violence.

Set in Kabul under the rule of the Taliban, this extraordinary novel takes readers into the lives of two couples: Mohsen, who comes from a family of wealthy shopkeepers whom the Taliban has destroyed; Zunaira, his wife, exceedingly beautiful, who was once a brilliant teacher and is now no longer allowed to leave her home without an escort or covering her face. Intersecting their world is Atiq, a prison keeper, a man who has sincerely adopted the Taliban ideology and struggles to keep his faith, and his wife, Musarrat, who once rescued Atiq and is now dying of sickness and despair.

Desperate, exhausted Mohsen wanders through Kabul when he is surrounded by a crowd about to stone an adulterous woman. Numbed by the hysterical atmosphere and drawn into their rage, he too throws stones at the face of the condemned woman buried up to her waist. With this gesture the lives of all four protagonists move toward their destinies.

The Swallows of Kabul is a dazzling novel written with compassion and exquisite detail by one of the most lucid writers about the mentality of Islamic fundamentalists and the complexities of the Muslim world. Yasmina Khadra brings readers into the hot, dusty streets of Kabul and offers them an unflinching but compassionate insight into a society that violence and hypocrisy have brought to the edge of despair.

Chapter One

Atiq Shaukat flails about him with his whip, trying to force a passage through the ragged crowd swirling around the stalls in the market like a swarm of dead leaves. He's late, but he finds it impossible to proceed any faster. It's like being inside a beehive; the vicious blows he deals out are addressed to no one in particular. On souk day, people act as if in a trance. The throng makes Atiq's head spin. In thicker and thicker waves, beggars arrive from the four corners of the city and compete with carters and onlookers for hypothetically free spaces. The porters' effluvia and the emanations of rotting produce fill the air with an appalling stench, and a burden of relentless heat crushes the esplanade. A few spectral women, segregated inside their grimy burqas, extend imploring hands and clutch at passersby; some receive a coin for their trouble, others just a curse. Often, when the women grow too insistent, an infuriated lashing drives them backward. But their ...

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About This Book

From brutal battles with Soviet troops to the rise of the Taliban theocracy, to the American invasion in the wake of 9/11, Afghanistan has become a potent symbol of the political and religious realities shaping the landscape of the twenty-first century. The Swallows of Kabul puts a human face on the horrors and repression of that war-torn country. It tells the story of two couples–Mohsen and Zunaira Ramat, born into the privileged classes of pre-Taliban Afghanistan, and the prison guard Atiq Shaukat and his wife Musarrat, raised in poverty and drawn into the jihad in hopes of bettering their lot in life.

Mohsen once hoped for a career as a diplomat, but now he aimlessly wanders the devastated streets of ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Yasmina Khadra — whose previous books have chronicled Algeria's savage civil war, pitting Islamic fundamentalists against the armybacked government — is intimately familiar with the consequences that war and religious extremism have on people's daily lives, and in this book he gives the reader a tactile sense of what life under the Taliban might have been like.

The New Yorker

Two men struggle to keep their sanity in a brief, despairing novel written pseudonymously by a former Algerian Army officer.... Khadra's prose is gentle and precise, but the violent climax of the book makes a powerful point about what can happen to a man when the light of his conscience has gone out.

Library Journal - Edward Keane

His jarring new work, ably translated from French, has crisp prose and an ominous--but not heavyhanded--tone as he contrasts the criminally absurd world of the Taliban's theocracy with touching and ultimately heartbreaking relationships of love and sacrifice that humanize the whole tragic society. Recommended for all fiction collections.

Kirkus Reviews

Khadra's unflinching portrayal of the scorching, suppurating environment in which these people struggle not to be noticed, is quite effective. And his principal characters' trials are ingeniously echoed in stark glimpses of other stunted, redirected figures. But Mohsen and Atiq declaim incessantly, creating static patches that stand out glaringly in this story's short compass--and are only partially redeemed by a powerful climax...Still, despite such contrivances, Khadra's latest is informed by a fine ironic intelligence, and its message is not an easy one to shake off.

Booklist - Ray Olson

Starred Review. In Kabul under the Taliban, two men walk the city in pain.

Publishers Weekly

Like Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, this is a superb meditation on the fate of the Afghan people.

Author Blurb J. M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature
Yasmina Khadra's Kabul is hell on earth, a place of hunger, tedium, and stifling fear.

Author Blurb Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
I am so grateful that the The Swallows of Kabul has been written, and written with such relentless poetry and passion. The reality of life under a rule such as the Taliban's makes us despair not only of the land that could tolerate such horror, but also of the world that for so long kept silent about it. However, the way that reality is narrated and ultimately redefined by Yasmina Khadra once more proves the power of fiction to turn our despair into hope, to restore our stolen sense of dignity and humanity and to desire life when death seems to be the safest refuge.

Author Blurb Da Chen, author of China's Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution
The Swallows of Kabul is reminiscent of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. It is a gem in world literature--poetic, intimate, and poignant--painting a beautiful yet sorrowful landscape of a people and their turbulent lives, lived and lamented in a forgotten land. A must read.

Reader Reviews

LexI

Best Book Ever
The Swallows of Kabul is the best book I have ever read. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a heart softening book. Thanks to my social studies class I am glad I read this.

Tommy

khadra's club
With "Swallows of Kabul" I was blown away with Khadra's poetic laments about the devoidness of life in Taliban dominated Afghanistan. I also recently read the second in his trilogy, "Attack," which tells the story of a financially successful ...   Read More

Babulal

Goooood Job!

Shahram A.

I think this book was very interesting.

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Beyond the Book

Afghanistan's strategic position between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent has made it an area of conflict for millenia. 

The Soviet Union intervened in 1979 to prop up a pro-communist regime, but after they withdraw many years later the civil war dragged on until the Taleban took control - initially bringing a measure of stability after 20 years of conflict.

The Taleban government fell in October 2001, after US initiated ...

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