Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

An unspeakable crime has occurred.  A man lies dead in his courtyard, his head split open by the hatchet laying nearby.  The only person there when the police arrive is his wife, Zeba.  The family lives in a small Afghan village and Muslim law is the norm.  The man, Kamal, was not a perfect man.  He had removed his family from the side of town where his family lived and there were rumors of the things he chose to do.  Zeba was expected to have no input into his behavior; to take whatever he chose to dish out and continue to be a perfect wife and mother to her four children. 

Now Zeba is in prison, the house with no windows.  She refuses to speak or give any explanation about what has occurred.  She is quartered with other women who are imprisoned for crimes, many of which boil down to zina, having sex outside marriage.  This could be loving a man one planned to marry, having an affair, being prostituted by one's husband or even being raped but blamed.  Women were not believed, their testimony not given any weight.  They were arrested by men, tried by men and judged by men.  Their punishment was given out and administered by men.

Into this environment comes Yusuf, Zeba's attorney.  Yusuf was born in Afghan but his family immigrated to the United States where he grew up and became an attorney.  Now he is back in Afghan as he wants to make an impact in the land of his birth.  He believes there is something in this crime that has not been uncovered, some reason that Zeba is not speaking.  Can he uncover all the hidden secrets that led to the crime?

Nadia Hashimi has shone a light into a culture that is difficult for most readers to imagine.  It is hard to conceive of a life where you have no hegemony, where your every action is dependent on what someone else decides you should do, where your desires and needs have no effect on any outcome.  Readers will be intrigued with the machinations that go on beneath the surface so that these women can survive if not thrive.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in feminist themes.

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