Book reviews: Novels take fictional look at family life
August 6, 2016
"A House Without Windows," by Nadia Hashimi
This story took over my life as I read it, and I still can't get it out of my mind. I have not read such a powerful book concerning the plight of Afghan women since Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns."
The story begins when Zeba, a young wife and mother of four young children, is found in her backyard with blood on her hands and her dead husband lying next to her with a hatchet in his head. Her entire village witnessed the aftermath and made their own judgements. For a reason to soon be discovered, Zeba refuses to recount what happened in her backyard, understanding the truth would be of little benefit in a culture that deems a woman's testimony worth only a fraction of a man's.
Zeba is taken to Chil Mahtab, a prison for Afghan women who have been convicted of the broad crime of "zina," or sex outside of marriage. Her four cellmates support each other as they expose their own so-called crimes. Ironically, though they are imprisoned and kept far from their children, these women feel they are treated better here than ever before.
Yusuf, a young, idealistic graduate of Columbia Law School, is a champion for the causes of the voiceless. He returns to Afghanistan, working for an international human rights organization providing attorneys to his native country. Zeba's alleged crime becomes Yusuf's first defense case. He is a rookie with honorable intentions, but is met with skepticism and resentment in Afghanistan. Yusuf does not consider his job an easy one, balancing tradition against progress in a place where people seem suspicious of everything. Furthermore, Zeba, afraid to tell her story, refuses to cooperate with his defense.
If I say more about this novel, you will miss the cultural experiences and the outcome of the story. Let me just say this is an unforgettable portrayal of what modern women, bound by a traditional culture of Afghanistan, face.The story is powerful, riveting, emotional and an excellent read.
"Harmony," by Carolyn Parkhurst
How does autism affect an individual, a marriage, a family, siblings? What decisions are made in the search for hope and normalcy? What can you do to be understood and supported and to help your child "it in?
At the age of 8, Tilly Hammond is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Though this label serves a purpose, it also oversimplifies the situation. By age 12, Tilly's parents are told she can no longer be helped in her public school. Once she is removed from the special-education program, Tilly's remaining options are grim: centers, residence programs, psychiatric wards. Thought the idea of homeschooling fills Alexandra, Tilly's mother, with terror, she makes an attempt, but soon realizes homeschooling is not working for Tilly, either.
When all hope appears lost, Alexandra agrees to an unconventional and new approach — to join a group of families who have given up their worldly possessions to help run a camp organized by a man named Scott Bean. Bean claims to know what autistic kids and their families need, yet he is not a parent himself. Though this is a risky venture for the family, they feel they need to take action, somehow.
This compelling story is told by Alexandra and Tilly's younger sister, Iris. These different perspectives offer a glimpse into the many issues surrounding autism and its effects on the entire family structure.
These books are available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.
Virgie DeNucci is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.