Filmed in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, written and directed by an Afghan filmmaker, this is a film about a young girl who dresses up like a boy in order to get work and support her mother and grandmother. I've read a few books about Afghanistan in the last year or so--they've been enlightening, but I still don't really understand the culture there or in surrounding Islamic countries. This movie gave me more to look at than the books (and the cinematography is really beautiful), but while I can explain that women there are oppressed and treated as second-class citizens, I have the feeling I'll never know what that's really like.
What strikes me about the Muslims portrayed in this movie and in the books I've read is that they are extremely religious--praying five times a day and constantly referring to God and His will--and at the same time some of the meanest people I've had to think about. Especially interesting to me is how the women, very often treated badly by their husbands and other men, try their hardest to oppress and belittle each other.
Now I know my exposure has been limited to a movie and a few books. Here are the books I've read that deal with Afghanistan:
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (a disturbing novel that I didn't really like but made me read more about Afghanistan and other Muslim countries)
- An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliot (nonfiction about a guy's travels to Afghanistan. The first visit he snuck in and lived with the mujahedin during the Russian occupation--when he was 19! because that's what everyone wants to do on Spring Break!--and the second time he traveled around the country ten years later, when the Taliban was beginning to take control. Beautifully written and fascinating.)
- The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (another fascinating nonfiction book by a female Norwegian journalist who lived with an Afghani family for three months. Really interesting, though also disturbing.)
Others that are related:
- House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III (interesting because one of main characters is Iranian; it's well-written and seems to characterize the Iranian family really well. Otherwise, I hated this book, because how could the characters do so many stupid things?)
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (I haven't finished this book yet, but it's good. Much more literary criticism than I expected, it's a memoir by an Iranian literature professor who holds a sort of underground book club for women after she resigns from her University of Tehran position because of political oppression.)
Anyway, I've barely begun to learn about Islamic culture and countries. There are certain topics that scare me because I know so little and there's so much to know, so I avoid them as much as possible until something makes me finally start to learn. And even though I didn't like the book, The Kite Runner inspired me to jump in, and that's something. (You'd think 9/11 might have gotten me started, but no.)