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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Swallows of Kabul

Algerian army officer Mohamed Moulessehoul used the pseudonym Yasmina Khadra to pen The Swallows of Kabul to avoid having to submit it to military censors.
The tale intertwines the lives of two men and their wives and follows them in a manner reminiscent of a camera dollying behind one man and then as the two strangers bump into each other, follows the other and offers an insight into his life. One is a jailer who has become inured to the sight of public executions, the other is a man who remembers happier times and longs for them again, along with his stunning wife. So beautiful is his wife that she refuses to go out as this would require her to conceal her beauty beneath a burqa.
The language of this novel is nothing short of caustic poetry, painting a vivid illustration of Kabul, Afghanistan, but it may very well have been an excerpt from Dante's Inferno, so bitter is the description. Deprived of basic human rights, the denizens have descended into savagery and live in a sort of suspended animation, forever teetering on the brink of death which few of them fear as it's a damn sight better than the existence they lead. Death is pretty much their only constant companion through the invasion of the Russians, disease, executions, and poverty.
It seems fitting that such a nihilistic work was originally written in the French language! When a book is translated, I often wonder how much of the credit should be due to the translator. Either way, I look forward to reading more of Moulessehoul's work.

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