Friday, 28 August 2009

a novel sadness

The Wasted Vigil, by Nadeem Aslam (2008). All about Afghanistan since the time of the Soviet invasion. After 30 pages I had to stop reading. Whether it was anger, or sorrow, or both, or a heart-bursting despair, I don’t know. Page 8, as we learn a little about why Lara, a Russian, has arrived at the secluded lakeside house and perfume factory of an elderly English convert to Islam…

      From the various plants in the garden he derived an ointment for the deeply bruised base of her neck, the skin of their almost black about the right shoulder, as though some of the world's darkness had attempted to enter her there. He wished pomegranates were in season as their liquid is a great antiseptic. When the bus broke down during the journey, she said, all passengers had disembarked and she had found herself falling asleep on a verge. There then came three blows to her body with a tire iron in quick succession, the disbelief and pain making her cry out. She was lying down with her feet pointed towards the west, towards the adored city of Mecca a thousand miles away, a disrespect she was unaware of, and one of the passengers had taken it upon himself to correct and punish her.
       Her real mistake was to have chosen to travel swaddled up like the women from this country, thinking it would be safer. Perhaps if her face had been somewhat exposed, the colour of her hair visible, she would have been forgiven as a foreigner. Everyone, on the other hand, had the right to make an example of an unwise Afghan woman, even a boy young enough to be her son.

What religion is so weak as to require propping up by this kind of oppression? How can such careless violence be nurtured? Who can seriously imagine that God cares about which way your feet point, and that he has appointed you to sort out the feet of others?

By the time we started to hear about the petty jealousies of local characters and the truly inhuman brutality of the Russian soldiers in the 1980s it was all too much.