In 2009 the International Human Rights Watch published a truly appalling 96 page report on the situation of women in Afghanistan. It would appear nothing has changed since the Taliban were thrown out. If anything, a further five years on from this report,  the lot of women has actually got worse. The report focused on five areas: attacks on women in public life, other violence against women, child and forced marriage, access to justice, and girls' access to secondary education  All of these issues are covered in this novel with the author stating on her website that she wrote this novel to share the experiences of Afghan women in 'a fictional work that is made up of a thousand truths'.  This novel tells the story of two women - Rahima, the third daughter of five, living with her cocaine addicted father and powerless mother in a village with numerous other extended family members around her. As there are no sons, Rahima  has the great good fortune to be able to take on the role of a son for the family. She is dressed  as a boy, has her hair cut, her name is change, she is able to go to school, to do the family shopping in the market, speak to men, look them in the eye, and have other boys as her friends. A great life, until inevitably, puberty begins and she must revert. What follows for Rahima and her two older sisters is forced marriage to much older men in order to satisfy their father's debt to a local war lord. Life takes a terrible turn for the worse for the three sisters. The girls' aunt, is a most unusual woman in that due to a physical disability she has never been given in marriage. She does all she can to focus Rahima and her sisters on being strong and smart and resilient by telling the story of the girls' great great great grandmother, Shekiba, who in turn was treated very badly by the men in her family and community she lived in. At one stage, she is required to take on the task of guarding the women in a harem,  dressing and living as a man, giving her unprecedented freedom from the dreadful life led by women. But life is not always rosy, and violence, death and betrayal are never far away.

I can't even begin to think  how intolerable and terrifying a life such as this could be. It is dreadful to think that millions of women in these countries are still living such restrictive violent lives. Although this is fiction, it is a serious read and doesn't shy away from the tough issues. It doesn't have quite the same punch and impact as 'The Kite Runner", but is every bit as good a story.  

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