by Maria Toorpaki
Courtesy of an Advanced Reader’s Copy from Auntie’s Bookstore.
And I thought that Khalid Hosseini’s novel 1,000 Splendid Suns was hard to read. It just baffles me, the grip that chauvinism and entitlement have on the men of so many parts of the world. Allow me to reference Spokane, my town, for a moment:
When Robert Lee Yates was caught a few years ago (one of the worst serial killers in Washington State history), his daughter went on camera and said that while she was shocked and horrified that her father could have done these awful things–he was still her father and she still loved him. She still loved him! He killed over 18 prostitutes that we know of, and buried one in his backyard right under the noses of his wife and 5 children. He is a self-confessed necrophiliac, and yet his family professes to love him still!
By contrast, the narrator of this memoir mentions her mother watching a young girl being stoned to death for what we in the West view as a natural and trivial sexual contact, with her own father hurling the largest stone and being the coldest and most unforgiving in the face of her dying pleas. Because “his honor” has been shamed. Oh for God’s sake–grow up!
The Good News
However, the father in this book is exceptional. Were he a Pakistani or even a Syrian refugee, I would open my home to him in a second! He believes in women’s rights, allowing his wife to go to University, buying her a jeans jacket to wear around the house, and even teaching his children that the three most important words in the world are…
(If you were expecting I LOVE YOU, so was I! But this father shows it so strongly–he doesn’t need to say it too. Perhaps that is not the Waziri way.)
Yes, the father loves democracy. When little Maria sees that the life of girls is heavy and stifling and the life of boys is free and lovely, she takes all her elaborately brocaded and stiff dresses and burns them in the courtyard. She chops off her hair with a knife, and she tells her startled parents that from now on, her name is Ghengis Khan. And they allow it!
But you know that the time is going to come when Maria will no longer be able to pass as Ghengis. She’s already had some pretty awful things happen to her for daring to be a little girl who wants to play sports–she’s been spit on by adult men and cut with a riding crop across the face. (God help the truly LGBTQ person in Pakistan. It must be a living hell.)
Both Maria/Ghengis and her sister Ayesha (a more traditional girl) idealize their country’s Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, for her work with Pakistani girls, especially in tribal areas. They are devastated when she is murdered by extremists. As Maria/Ghengis remarks bitterly, in Pakistan, courage often gets you killed. But the little girls don’t give up. Ayesha’s father hauls her all over the country as a debate champion, and Maria/Ghengis becomes a squash star. But will their own countrymen allow them to fulfill their dreams? Read on to find out…
Final Rating: Five Squash Racquets: Chilling, and disturbing, but a necessary read and also a shining testament to courage, faith, and the power of belief. To fathers everywhere who believe in their daughters. My own father has always believed in my writing and supported it. (PS–thank you, Dad!)