This is my review of Les hirondelles de Kaboul: Roman by Yasmina Khadra.
Although I read this in French – and it is excellent practice for improving one's French – I thought it best to post a review in my native English.
The swallows are the veiled women of Kabul, who flit through the ruined alleys like fugitives in a perpetual "half-life" of oppression.
It is ironical that all the reviews to date have been written on the English translation. The original French version of this tale – which I am sure must be "better" for those who can access it – uses vivid, striking language to capture the atmosphere of a war-torn city under the bigoted rule of the Taliban, which gives free rein to bullies and fanatics: people survive by keeping their heads down.
We see constant examples of casual brutality and sexism which shock our sanitised western sensibilities.
When a man admits to his worries over his sick wife, a friend condemns him for such a display of his own weakness. The remedy is obvious: he should cast his wife aside for a younger model!
A sensitive young man is aroused by the madness of a crowd to join in the stoning of a woman he does not even know, a momentary lapse on his part which costs him the love of his would-be emancipated wife.
As a final irony, men who feel "dishonoured" when a lunatic tears aside their wives' veils trample on the women in their haste to get at him.
This short, simple tale of cause and effect reminds me of a medieval morality play, as the lives of the various characters begin to impinge on each other and events build to a plausible but inevitably tragic climax.
I have no idea as to the authenticity of this story written by an Algerian army officer under a female pseudonym to avoid censorship at the time. Despite its bleak theme, and at times somewhat overblown prose (which somehow seems acceptable in French), the story of the chain reaction of damage wrought by fanatical repression remains in one's memory.