The Widow’s Husband
The Great Game of European powers jostling for control of Afghanistan took a terrible toll in early 1842 with the withdrawal of 16,000 British, including many women and children, from Kabul through snow-clogged passes. We are used to hearing the tale from the British point of view, the barbarous natives that set upon them, still untamed to this day, and the survival of a single British soldier. This important novel is hardly recognizable as the same story: it is seen from the point of view of Ibrahim, recently named malik of a tiny village of Char Bagh, concerned more with the neighboring village stealing his people’s water and for his feelings for his brother’s widow than with any Great Game. Then a holy man settles in on the hillside above the village, drawing a steady stream of visitors and finally a handful of strangers, Engrayzee, with their tempting coins and their disregard of traditional ways. The strangers are convinced the holy man is leading a rebellion, for the constant disruptions of their imperial and rational sway must have an evil mastermind.
Oh, the injustices of modern publishing! This book, from a tiny press—which could have used a better editor at the very least to nip the jarring colloquialisms of some of the dialogue in the bud—deserves a much wider audience than I fear it will get. The wise and powerful widow Khadija and Ibrahim make choices few western novels will allow their characters, no matter how accurate the authors try to be. Here, the choices seem perfectly rational, even noble. The world and culture are beautifully drawn, and the few sorties into British minds could have been done without, or at least given more separation than just another chapter heading. They really are an insufferable lot, these western powers, and seem to have learned nothing in a hundred and fifty years.