The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari
|The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Clare Reddaway|
|Summary: Set in Kabul, this is the story of Rukhsana, a feisty young woman whose dreams are being crushed by the Taliban. Their plan to introduce cricket to Afghanistan provides a hope of freedom. Exciting, moving, harrowing, romantic and readable.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: July 2012|
|Publisher: Allen & Unwin|
We all know, or think we know, how oppressive life was for Afghans, particularly Afghan women, under the Taliban regime, but when you read this novel, boy do you get a sense of how tough it really was.
When Rukhsana is summoned to the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice she thinks that everything is over for her. A spirited young journalist who trained in Delhi and had a job on the ‘Kabul Daily’ before the Taliban took power, she has been smuggling stories out of the country – stories of executions and oppression, of the horrors of the new life women are forced to experience in her country. If caught, she faces immediate execution. But the Ministry have a different agenda. They have decided to promote cricket in Afghanistan. They want to make an announcement about a match to be held in a few weeks time. The winning team will go to Pakistan to train. Rukhsana sees this as an opportunity that cannot be missed, an opportunity to escape.
There is much to enjoy in this book. Day to day existence as it was lived in Kabul under the Taliban is vividly brought to life. The Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001, but for those who suffered under the Sharia law they imposed, those five years must have felt intolerable. Murari creates a network of Westernised modern women, who are rooted in traditions of familial obedience, but who had jobs and lives outside the home that are ripped from them. Rukhsana’s banishment from her office is moving, and even small scenes, such as the moment her grandmother must put on a burka for the first time, allows the reader to empathise deeply with the women’s plight. Rukhsana’s visit to her old hairdresser, now plying her trade undercover, at home, is a tribute to women’s international desire for a blow-dry, and is very real and moving. As is her encounter with an old teacher, now begging on the street. Murari depicts well the fear that stalks every movement, and the randomness of the extreme violence that the Taliban officials indulge in. He writes, for instance, an unforgettable description of an execution in the Kabul football stadium. These are important things to know about and to remember.
However, the book also tells a good story. It is dramatic, exciting and even funny – there is something genuinely absurd about the team that Rukhsana and her brother Jahan put together. The wearing of false beards would add a comic element, had it not been so frighteningly important. A strength of the book is the juxtaposition of the training for a cricket match with the life and death plotting of an escape. The match is treated as purely sport by the imported English umpire, yet is anything but for the participants.
There are moments when the plot is contrived and convenient. Incident is piled onto the characters in order to raise the stakes. A ‘ticking clock’ element is introduced which includes an agonising choice and threat for Rukhsana, and whilst this is exciting and increases tension it does strain credulity. It is all a bit too neat. The incidents also comes so thick and fast that some characterisation is sacrificed. However, perhaps this should be balanced against the fact that at no point does the author descend into moralising political diatribe. The book could never be described as earnest.
This book is funny, moving, harrowing, romantic and readable. If the plot is at times improbable, I think the author can be forgiven, as the backdrop that he provides is certainly shockingly realistic.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari at Amazon.com.
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