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The Swallows of Kabul: A Novel Hardcover – February 17, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Khadra is the nom de plume for Algerian army officer Mohamed Moulessehoul (In the Name of God; Wolf Dreams), who illustrates the effects of repression on a pair of Kabul couples in this slim, harrowing novel of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Gloomy prison guard Atiq Shaukat is tired of his grim duties, keeping watch over prisoners slated for public execution. Life at home, where his wife, Musarrat, is slowly dying of a chronic illness, is no better. Mohsen Ramat, meanwhile, clings to the remains of his middle-class life together with his beautiful, progressive wife, Zunaira, after the Taliban strip them of their livelihood and dignity. Khadra's storytelling style recalls that of Naguib Mahfouz in the early chapters, in which the tense dissatisfaction of both couples is revealed. The pivotal event occurs when Ramat discharges his frustrations by participating in the brutal stoning of a female Taliban prisoner. The incident changes the dynamic of his marriage; after an extended argument about the incident, Ramat persuades Zunaira to go for a stroll in downtown Kabul and the couple is harassed and nearly brutalized by Taliban soldiers. Zunaira continues to bridle at her situation, and when their next argument turns physical, Ramat falls and dies after hitting his head on the wall. Shaukat is given the assignment of guarding Zunaira after she is arrested and charged with murder, and his instant infatuation with her sets off a remarkable chain of events. Khadra's simple, elegant prose, finely drawn characters and chilling insights ("Kabul has become the antechamber to the great beyond") prepare the way for the terrible climax. Like Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, this is a superb meditation on the fate of the Afghan people.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Two men struggle to keep their sanity in a brief, despairing novel written pseudonymously by a former Algerian Army officer. Before the destruction wrought by the Soviet war and Taliban rule, Mohsen was an affluent merchant; now he wanders the streets while his beautiful wife is confined to home and burka. Atiq, a volatile ex-mujahideen, guards the prisoners awaiting public execution. One day, Mohsen stops to observe the public stoning of a prostitute, one of Atiq's charges. Caught up in the frenzy, he joins in, initiating a series of tragic events. Khadra's prose is gentle and precise, but the violent climax of the book makes a powerful point about what can happen to a man when "the light of his conscience has gone out."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385510012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385510011
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,721,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of the Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, born in 1956. A high ranking officer in the Algerian army, he went into exile in France in 2000, where he now lives in seclusion. In his several writings on the civil war in Algeria, Khadra exposes the current regime and the fundamentalist opposition as the joint guilty parties in the Algerian Tragedy. Before his admission of identity in 2001, a leading critic in France wrote, 'A he or a she? It doesn't matter. What matters is that Yasmina Khadra is today one of Algeria's most important writers.'

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on November 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"The Swallows of Kabul," by Yasmina Khadra, is a novel that has been translated from the French by John Cullen. The book's dustcover notes that Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul, an Algerian army officer who used the feminine pseudonym in order to avoid censorship.

"Swallows" is a gripping tale that takes place in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban. The story revolves around the lives of the men and women who endured life under this religious fundamentalist regime. The author vividly depicts the cruelty and violence of the regime. The main characters include a jailer who guards the Taliban's victims and a female lawyer who chafes under the regime's sexist oppression.

The book is full of memorable details and scenes, such as a colorfully portrayed group of disabled war veterans who congregate around a mosque. Khadra's prose is at times grotesque, at times poetic. We see the hopes and frustrations of the individual characters. And we also see the possibility of compassion and redemption in a world of brutality, suffering, and injustice. As an American soldier, I served in Afghanistan and was deeply touched by the tragedy and beauty of that land and its people; I thank both the author and translator of this book for bringing this moving tale to life.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on May 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
The reference to swallows in the title of this remarkable novel is to the burqa-clad women of Afghanistan during the years of the Taliban. Swathed in fabric from head to toe, they have been forced from public life and, as much as possible, rendered invisible, to preserve their "purity" and the honor of their families. The French-Algerian author, Khadra, heightens the incomprehensibility of this kind of faith-based segregation of genders even further by beginning and ending his story with the public executions of two women, one for alleged adultery and the other for the alleged murder of her husband.

Between these two incidents, the story follows the daily lives of several characters living out lives of soul-crushing misery in the doomed and ruined city of Kabul. There is a jail keeper, a university-educated man, an aged man who dreams of escape, and a Kalashnikov-carrying militiaman who turns a blind eye to the inhumanity he witnesses and looks only for opportuniies to advance his own career. It is a violent, Orwellian world where empathy has died and only the self-serving survive.

Both spare and unsparing, Khadra's writing brings to mind the stark, unsentimental vision of Camus' "The Stranger." The book is a bleak portrayal of exteme Islamic fundamentalism and as such seems intended as a heart-rending call of compassion for those in war-devastated regions, who are trapped by its worst excesses.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on July 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
Where Khalid Hosseini's THE KITE RUNNER reads like "Afghanistan lite," a tale of privileged, upper class life lost, Yasmina Khadra's THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL wallows in the street dust, beggar children, and Taliban whips of Kabul. Khadra's tale is terrifying in its immediacy, creating an atmosphere in which every word and action must be chosen carefully, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to anything from two hours' imprisonment in a mosque listening to a raving mullah to a beating or even death. The first three pages set the tone magnificently, depicting a near hell on earth.

THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL intertwines the stories of two married couples whose lives cross randomly, first in small ways and then in hugely fateful ways. Atiq Shaukat is a taciturn war survivor (versus the Soviets) turned jailer for prisoners being held pending public execution. His wife of twenty years, Musarrat, was the nurse who saved him from his wounds and helped him recover. She has always known that Atiq married her out of a sense of obligation, and now she is suffering from a fatal degenerative disease. Another young couple, Mohsen Ramat and his beautiful wife Zunaira, are well-educated, a handsome and ideal match who have lost their professional jobs and comfortable lives to the ravages of war and the worse ravages of religious fundamentalism. They struggle to maintain their identities and sense of purpose in the face of irrational and capricious Taliban zealotry.

Khadra follows Stendahl's dictum of character development: put them in difficult situations and then give them brains so they can suffer. And suffer his four main characters do, terribly, each in his own way.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Carlton on October 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Khandra's books are simple with multiple levels of perception. More importantly, they are masterfully wordsmithed (the over-used term is well earned in this case). These are the kind of books that haunt you for years as they become part of your psyche.....and you see parallels to the writing all around you.......the writing truly provides you with a new perception of your own life.

Here are all the books to date, with a bit of info on each:

Swallows of Kabul (2004)

A bit hit in France, this story of 2 couples and their attempts to cope with the rule of the Taliban is mesmerizing.

Wolf Dreams (2003) 3rd of an Algerian trilogy

A story of a Moslem Jihadi, from sweet boy to fanatic fundamentalist has been recommended for insight into the driving force of suicidist youngsters.

Morituri (2003) 2nd of an Algerian trilogy

An Algerian kidnaping story that provides a compelling look at the definition of crime in a permanently impoverished society.

In The Name Of God (2000) 1st of an Algerian trilogy

A look at the phenomena of Moslem fundamentalism in Algeria, this book has strong parallels to Camu's "The Plague." In some ways it is a more modern variation on a theme of Camu's work.
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