on August 16th 2016
Published by William Morrow
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.
Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: eighteen-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an “honor killing”; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, a teen runaway who stays because it is safe shelter; twenty-year-old Mezghan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for a court order to force her lover’s hand. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment; removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.
Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland have brought him back. With the fate this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like the Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.
“My full height, my beloved husband never did see
Because the fool dared turn his back on me.”
This is a heartbreaking story about women’s lives in Afghanistan. In this book women feel more free and open in prison than they did at home. Zeba meets many women after the murder of her husband. Most of them are in prison for zina – sex outside of marriage. That can mean anything from a premarital sex to an affair to rape to just being rumored to be alone with a man. This book depicts a society that places so much value on a man’s honor but it measures that honor entirely by the behavior of woman instead of behavior of the man.
Everyone knows that Zeba’s husband was not a good man. However, now that he is dead, his honor (that he did not uphold in life) is of the most importance. The fact that Zeba was arrested when she is found sitting by his dead body and not murdered by her neighbors is seen as a very merciful act. No attempts are made to collect evidence. She was there so obviously she did it.
Yusef, an Afghani-born American-raised lawyer, has just come back to Afghanistan to work on cases like Zina’s. She drives him crazy by refusing to participate in her own defense.
The prison life in this story reminded me a lot of the South Korean prison that Sun in is in Sense8, if you’ve seen that show. The women come from backgrounds so dominated by men that many of them are finding life better in jail.
This book does drag a little in the middle while the mystery of Zeba’s husband’s death is being investigated and Yusef is trying a bunch of strategies to get Zeba free. I liked the inclusion of her mother who is considered to be able to do magic. Zeba uses what she learned from her mother to gain status in prison even though she is conflicted about it.