Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book of Nightmares

Last night, later than I meant to stay up after the spectacular lunar eclipse, I finished reading Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Once I got to the last 100 pages, I had to finish the book lest I find myself trying to finish the story all night in my dreams. It is a book designed to give a woman nightmares, second only to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Why is Atwood's first as a book of nightmares? Because it happens here. It's the picture of what an American theocracy could look like: a fertile woman is "a national resource" and she must "be a worthy vessel." The first-person narrator says "we are for breeding purposes" and "we are two-legged wombs." This is the world as some pro-lifers would like to see it.

Hosseini's book takes place in Afghanistan, a place that I started reading about in the 1980's when newspaper columnists began pointing out the many parallels between the treatment of the handmaids in Atwood's novel and the treatment of Afghan women under Taliban rule. And what have I done to improve their lot? Not enough. Reading about women in the middle east always makes me think of Germans who managed to block out their bits of knowledge that something wasn't right about what was happening to the Jews. Ignorance is no shield against such evil.

It particularly offends me that those who should be standing up and pointing out the evil (here I think of Buckaroo Banzai pointing his finger and shouting "Evil! Pure and simple! From the 8th Dimension!") are instead doing a mealy-mouthed multicultural dance around the issue. Whatever possessed the archbishop of Canterbury (pun intended) to speak out in favor of any law based on religion? What an unworthy successor to Thomas More.

Sharia law is bad, mmkay? Let us count the first ten ways:

Of course, a good antidote to A Thousand Splendid Suns is Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley.

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