A House Without Windows, By Nadia Hashimi

What’s This Book All About?

A story that revolves around Zeba, she is sent to jail, after being found guilty of murdering her husband. But there is more here than what meets the eye.

As the book delves deeper into the life of Zeba, it results in  a story that offers us a more intimate look into the life of Afghani women, which is in equal measures astonishing,  frightening, and triumphant.

The Bigger Picture

I hold Khaled Hosseini responsible for my love of stories based in Afghanistan. Both his novels, Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns had depicted the region in a brutal, heart-breaking yet beautiful manner. But coming back to A House Without Windows, this is a novel based in Afghanistan and throws light on the plight of women in the region.

After being found guilty of killing her husband, Zeba is sentenced to Chil Mahtab, an Afghan women’ prison. An eye opening experience for Zeba, it is here that she discovers the incredible stories that have sent so many unfortunate women to its overcrowded cells. From runaway girls to betrayed mothers, each tells a tale of family honor used as a weapon against her, leaving prison a safe haven indeed.

“Time passes differently through a woman’s body. We are haunted by all the hours of yesterday and teased by a few moments of tomorrow. That is how we live—torn between what has already happened and what is yet to come.”

And for all these women, Chil Mahtab is both a heaven and a punishment; simply because the prison offers them a golden opportunity to escape from the harsh and unforgiving world outside. The women here have formed a lively and indelible sisterhood that proves to be their only source of comfort and hope.

And it is to the women in this world that Zeba tries to bring some comfort through spells her own mother, Gulnaz had taught her. There is also a parallel story of Yuzuef, who is Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland has brought him back to the country. Yet Zeba’s refusal to help in her own defense, her determination to face execution for a crime she may not have committed, maddens Yusuef and raises disturbing questions: what could have driven her to impale a hatchet in Kamal’s head? Could she be protecting the real killer? As Yusuef investigates, Kamal’s secrets come to light and Zeba’s courage begins to extend to surprising lengths.

The true beauty of this book is however the fact that it shows us human emotions are universal in every part of the world. Women are funny or bold or valiant or crazy in Afghanistan, just like everywhere else. And that is exactly where Hashimi wins as she successfully creates female characters that are strong, vivid and relatable.

A woman was only as good as the drops that fell on her wedding night, the ounces she bled with the turns of the moon, and the small river that she shed giving her husband children.

Another aspect of the book that leaves an impression is the crisp yet uncluttered writings, that only adds to the detail and explicit realism. You want  to know what it is like to be a women in Afghanistan, and sent to prison after murdering her husband. You want to know what is it that goes through the minds of these women, when they know that they might have to face prison for things like sharing a meal with a non-relative male or for running away from your abusive family? How about being stoned to death for a small social infraction, or for being raped by some entitled fool from your village?These things are deeply unpleasant to contemplate but this stuff actually happens to our Afghan sisters. And this is exactly why these types of stories deserve a much wider audience in the world.

Final Verdict

Read it, simply because these stories help you realise that the world has a long way to go when it comes to equality and justice for people, especially women. And while it is easy to point fingers at other place, if you stop and pause, there are equally horrifying things happening, right where you live. It is like Audre Lorde says, I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.

Featured image courtesy: Unsplash