A woman's story of courage, struggle & determination

As a reader, I am assured that once in a lifetime, we wish to meet our favourite writer or character limned in a novel. For me, Siba Shakib is one such author. I have always adored her writing; the way she writes her characters and the details of a particular situation, place or circumstances. Shakib is an Iranian - German filmmaker, writer and political activist. She was born and raised up in Tehran, Iran. She worked as a music journalist and radio presenter, before she published her first international bestseller: Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep. The book was published in 2002, and has since been translated into 27 different languages and has won numerous awards including the Peter Surava Pen prize.

I have always been fond of stories where women are icons, especially where they stand and fight for themselves. Here, the title of the novel articulates itself. While reading Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep, I could pair down expression to the essentials with each word and phrases passing more than ever. It firmly depicts the suffering of the people who cannot understand how actions taken in the name of God can be so implacably catastrophic. The story follows the life of Shirin-Gol, from her early childhood days to when she becomes a grandmother. The novel depicts the journey of her husband and children as they travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s refugee camp, to Iran and back to Afghanistan, in an unceasing quest for peaceful survival. They discover humanity only among the oppressors. 

Shirin, true to her first name was born as a sweet and charming flower and the ninth child of her family. Her life was delightful and prosperous until the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and bombarded her village. She started to realize that her country was in real threat, as the desolation was not limited to her home. Except for her father and brothers who had joined the resistance, Shirin-Gol and the remaining women in her family fled to Kabul. She starts encountering daily life struggles due to instability caused by indictment of all the politicians. She aspired to become a doctor, but this aspiration was unfulfilled. Shirin is forced to marry Morad at an early age to pay off her brother’s gambling debt. Despite all the adversities and dreadful circumstances, she always prioritized education for her children so that they could have a better life than hers. 

Like most of the Afghan families, Shirin’s family also suffered under the Taliban regime; where women were not allowed to work and held captive behind the walls of a house. Shirin Gol’s situations are just as weak as you can imagine. Morad, the only man she relied on became addicted to opium and she could not stop it. She lured to sell her young daughter and had to negotiate with her dignity and conscience to sell her body in exchange for food and money, just to ensure that her children do not die from hunger. She endures and never gives up hope in the world, where ethics are an anomaly in which social exertion is determined by murder, rape, humiliation, poverty, disease and despair.  

In this novel, you find the gallantry of a woman despite hostile conditions, finding the civilized values of love, caring, sharing and happiness; when one is not even sure of seeing tomorrow’s dawn, but with a smile on the face, courage in the heart, one can conquer any exceptions. 

This novel is a journey of 311 pages,  of separation and reunions, followed by a lot of heartbreak and grievous events. One can find many Shirin-Gol in the streets of Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep 
Author: Siba Shakib
Publisher: Century Publications
Price: Rs. 920 (approx)