Synopses & Reviews
Moshen, the scion of a family of successful businessmen, and his wife, Zunaira, the daughter of a prominent man, met at the university and once looked forward to a happy and prosperous life together. But Moshen’s dream of becoming a diplomat, halted by the war with Russia, dies with the ascendancy of the Taliban. Zunaira, formerly a lawyer who worked for women’s rights, can no longer even appear on the streets of Kabul without a veil over her face. It is only in their own home that they can be themselves, share their thoughts, express their love. One day, unable to resist Moshen’s pleas, Zunaira dons her burqa
and goes to the market with him. The outing turns into a nightmare from which neither can awaken.
Atiq, a veteran of the Russian war, is now a part-time jailer who watches over those condemned to death. The darkness of the prison and the wretchedness of his job have seeped into his soul. His home offers little respite from his rage and misery. His wife, Musarrat, is suffering from an illness no doctor can cure and even the most fervent prayers cannot alleviate. As Atiq begins to lose all faith in his own ability to survive the arbitrary demands and extreme cruelties of the Taliban, he is drawn to the beautiful Zunaira, now placed in the prison to await public execution. In a final act of defiance, Musarrat conceives a plan that will allow her husband to live and to hope again.
Already a bestseller in France, THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL brilliantly exposes the differences between religiosity and dangerous religious extremism. Written in spare, exquisite prose, it is an unforgettable portrait of life under a fascist theocracy.
"[A] slim, harrowing novel....Khadra's simple, elegant prose, finely drawn characters and chilling insights prepare the way for the terrible climax....[A] superb meditation on the fate of the Afghan people." Publishers Weekly
"A bleak, terse tale....[D]espite [some] contrivances, Khadra's latest is informed by a fine ironic intelligence, and its message is not an easy one to shake off." Kirkus Reviews
"[Khadra's] jarring new work, ably translated from French, has crisp prose and an ominous but not heavyhanded tone...[with] touching and ultimately heartbreaking relationships of love and sacrifice that humanize the whole tragic society." Library Journal
"Yasmina Khadra's Kabul is hell on earth, a place of hunger, tedium, and stifling fear." J. M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature
"I am so grateful that 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." Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
"This book covers the universal theme of what a political situation such as this one can generate: male cowardice, female madness. It's equally despairing and magnificent." Le Nouvel Observateur
"All the themes of oppression are celebrated: the banality of evil, mass hysteria, the power of sacrifice, death's shadow. And most of all the reign of the absurd. For Yasmina Khadra's characters are the grandchildren of Albert Camus's characters." L'Express
"Here is an almost perfect litle book. Soft like a stone in a river, warm like a lover's blood....The intrigue is clever and the language beautiful." Le Journal du Dimanche
"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." Da Chen, author of China's Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution
"[Khadra] knows how to hold the reader spellbound from the first to the last page....Yasmina Khadra confirms that he is a great writer." Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace
The extraordinary bestselling novel from France, set in Kabul, The Swallows of Kabul is a stunning portrait of life under the Taliban.
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.
About the Author
Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume of the Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who took a feminine pseudonym to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by the army. He is the author of two other books published in English, In the Name of God
and Wolf Dreams
. He is now living in France.
John Cullen has translated the work of many writers, including Susanna Tamaro, Christa Wolf, and Henning Boetius, all published under the Nan A. Talese imprint.