BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep, by Siba Shakib
, July 13, 2002
Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep: A Woman's Story of Courage, Struggle and Determination
By Siba Shakib
Rec. price: $24.95
Since 11 September last year, Afghanistan and the plight of the Afghan people have been in the news. This recently released, moving work, which is hard to put down, tells of the plight of the Afghan people, particularly women and children. The protagonist, Shirin-Gol and her family can be said to be symbolic of millions of Afghans who have endured war and poverty for over 20 years.
The narrative begins with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, when Shirin-Gol was a young girl. While male members of her family go to the hills to fight the Russians, she and a number of other females have the opportunity to go to school and Shirin-Gol dreams of being a doctor.
Her education is cut short with her marriage as a teenager to Morad, whom she is forced to marry to pay off her brother's gambling debts, and their flight from Afghanistan to Pakistan in the wake of continuing violence following Russia's withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The narrative follows the family's misfortunes. Twice they are refugees, once to Pakistan and again to Iran, returning due to discrimination and inability to make a decent living. Even when they live in Afghanistan, they are often made to feel like outsiders when living in remote rural regions.
The family also live under the authoritarian Taliban regime, whose ultra-strict mandates and control over people make life, particularly for women trying to support their families, almost unbearable.
Shirin-Gol emerges as a victim of events beyond her control, yet as the force that holds her family together. She often goes hungry and is raped. On one occasion she reluctantly consents to her teenage daughter marrying a member of the Taliban, to use the dowry money to flee to Iran.
After her husband Morad is seriously injured when trying to smuggle a refrigerator, she becomes the family's main breadwinner and her struggle to make ends meet grows progressively worse against the backdrop of the Taliban's prohibitions against women working and her husband's slide into opium addiction.
The narrative ends with Shirin-Gol and her family fleeing to an area of Afghanistan controlled by Afghans fighting the Taliban and being reunited with lost family members.
The text begins with her as a girl and ends with her becoming a grandmother and with white hair, old before her time. At the conclusion, there is the sense at the conclusion that this is only a temporary safe haven for Shirin-Gol.
This readable account provides a good insight into one of the poorest countries on earth that is trying to rebuild itself after over 20 years of conflict.