Author: Jill McGivering
Reviewed by: Vishal Kale
· Ellen Thomas: News Correspondent; doughty, tough; never-say-die; a person without any prejudice; responsible and sensitive…
· Hasina: A Mother…
· Major Mack: Can be called the quintessential commanding officer… except that he cares too much for his boys and their welfare…
· Jalil: An Honest Afghan translator who got caught in the middle
· Najib: Jalil’s reluctant but hionest friend
· Aref: Hasina’s son; wounded and dying; a picture of a tragic nation….
Ellen Thomas is a news correspondent on the hunt for the killers of her translator Jalil; her 10-year association with Jalil and his family lead her to the conclusion that the truth lies elsewhere. In pursuit of this, she lands near the place where Jalil was killed, with the same unit – a bunch of young, inexperienced British soldiers led by a very likable and competent Major. She get a chance to cover an attack on a Talibani stronghold by the military, where she comes face to face with the people caught in between the Taliban and the British., an experience which jars her to the core of her existence. Simultaneously, Hasina is a mother – nothing more, nothing less. Her son has been led astray by his uncle into the deadly folds of local fighters. He comes home mortally wounded; at this point, the mother steps in with a will to do anything to save her son from both the Taliban and the British.
There is little trust between these two women when they inevitably meet; their respective agenda are different and mutually exclusive. While Ellen is primarily interested in uncovering Jalil’s death, the mother is only interested in saving her son. To complicate matters further, there is a history of violence coming in the way. Not only that, neither can understand a word of the others’ language – nor is there any trust. Yet, they are thrown together – being the only 2 women in the camp… Why was Jalil killed? Was it because he was close to the british? Or was Jalil a traitor? What Happens to Aref? What is the link between Aref and Jalil – or is there no link?
Much has been said about the power of the written word, of its capability to educate, elucidate, clarify, aid memory etcetera. All of the above are universally accepted and understood. But beyond all of these, it has also been stated that the properly written word can evoke memories, as also paint a vivid picture in your mind as you read the prose. This latter statement is also accepted as gospel by all: and it is this latter statement that describes this book!
A book that will jar you to the core of your being on 2 fronts: the first being the awesome power of its prose, which literally paints a moving picture in your mind as the story in the book plays out. Such is the stunning quality of the writing that you can picturise the entire story play out right in front of your eyes. You are held spellbound and riveted to the story. This its not a small feat by any means; in fact, given the plot and its treatment, it is a feat that is very nearly unparalleled in my experience at least. I have never read a more powerful piece of writing than this… I say this because the story and its flow is comparatively slow. The author manages to hold your attention through the sheer power of her writing!
The second front where the book bets you is your guts: it wrenches them from you, takes your breath away and leaves you in a state of suspension as you read the pages. This has nothing to do with the writing: it has everything to do with the content. The way the plight of the Afghan people has been laid out in front of your eyes is breathtaking. Wondrously, this is achieved not by an overdose of melodrama – but by forceful logic, pin-point observation and straightforward analysis. In other words, you don’t shed a tear, or feel like crying your eyes out. You don’t even feel disgust: you are left in a state of wonder combined with an indefinable sadness at their plight.
There are no value judgements in the book; it shies away from either justification or explanations – or indeed solutions. It states things like they are. The characterizations to achieve this would have to be limited to the bare essentials – which is precisely what they are. Each character has been developed only to the extent that is needed for the story to forward; there are no needless details or dilly-dallying of any sort anywhere in the book. All in all, a book you would want read again and again. I rate it 5 stars – in fact, I rate it to be among the best fiction novels I have ever read!