Monday, October 8, 2007

Angry and sad

I've always wondered about cruelty--fascinated by it because it seems to foreign to my life. And the question that always forms for me is "Why?" Why do so many people choose to add to the cruelty in the world? Why don't they feel an inner longing to bring healing to the world rather than to participate in its destruction? But psychology, religion, and literature all remind me over and over that we are just not wired that way.

Mowgli gave me A Thousand Splendid Suns (a story about women in Afghanistan) for my birthday and, shame on me, I'm just now getting to it. I'm three-quarters of the way through and I'm afraid to keep reading because I can tell it is just going to be too, too sad for me to bear.

This is one of those books that brings to mind all the trite book-review phrases--"haunting," "compelling," "heartbreaking,"--but it is never trite itself. The genius of this book is that it brings into focus the great cruelty that we humans are capable of alongside glimpses of hope and redemption. (but never confuse hope and redemption with happy endings.) There are few evil people in this story, only complicated ones. The loving father betrays his daughter. The contemptible husband beats his family and also feeds them when starvation sets in. The mother abandons her daughter only after she has sacrificed everything to raise her.

Early in the story, a mother reminds her daughter that a woman's only option in life is to endure. The book reminds me of how many women on this planet have no real choices, only the path of endurance or not, and how much courage it takes just to be a woman in some places. I've been angry lately about the sexism in my life--and particularly in the lives of women I've come to care for.

The other thing that struck me was how quickly things can change--how a country can go from normalcy to utter chaos in an instant. Women were doctors, politicians, teachers one day and the next, they were hidden at home and in burqas. It's happened so often--in Iran, in Rwanda, in Nazi Germany--from order to chaos, from normalcy to insanity in the blink of an eye.

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