The truth is that no one who hasn't actually experienced the senseless chaos and violence of combat can possibly understand it, but those who have and who try to explain it to the rest of us are offering us a precious gift: a part of their soul that's been scorched in the flames of Hell. It's a little like trying to describe music to the deaf or color to the blind ... to make the irrational somewhat sensible, which is always confusing and frustrating, and ultimately futile.
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The warlords took part in atrocities during the civil war in Afghanistan. They looted, they raped, they killed. They have become incredibly empowered and entrenched. They live in mansions, they have jobs in the government, and they're incredibly powerful. In Kabul, people don't want to speak about it too publicly, because these people are essentially like Tony Soprano.
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What was I supposed to be, growing in your womb -- assuming it was even in our womb that I was conceived? A seed of hope? A ticket purchased to ferry you from the dark? A patch for that hole you carried in your heart? If so, then I wasn't enough. I wasn't nearly enough. I was no balm to your pain, only another dead end, another burden, and you must have seen that early on. You must have realized it. But what could you do? You couldn't go down to the pawnshop and sell me.
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No matter where we're born, which countries we're raised in, what cultures we come from, there are some universal experiences we all have as children. We all kind of start the same. We want the love of our parents, companionship, friends, we want to have fun, to play, and we're all hurt the first time we learn that the world is far from perfect place - it's the start of a series of epiphanies and realizations that is what growing up is all about.
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You changed the subject." "From what?" "The empty-headed girls who think you're sexy." "You know." "Know what?" "That I only have eyes for you." Laila swooned inside. She tried to read his face but was met by a look that was indecipherable: the cheerful, cretinous grin at odds with the narrow, half desperate look in his eyes. A clever look, calculated to fall precisely at the midpoint between mockery and sincerity
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Was there happiness at the end [of the movie], they wanted to know. If someone were to ask me today whether the story of Hassan, Sohrab, and me ends with happiness, I wouldn't know what to say. Does anybody's? After all, life is not a Hindi movie. Zendagi migzara, Afghans like to say: Life goes on, undmindful of beginning, en, kamyab, nah-kam, crisis or catharsis, moving forward like a slow, dusty caravan of kochis.
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At times , he didn't understand the meaning of the Koran's words. But he said he liked the enhancing sounds the arabic words made as they rolled off his tongue. He said they comforted him , eased his heart. "They'll comfort you too. Mrariam jo , " he said. "You can summon then in your time of your need , and they won't fail you. God's words will never betray you , my girl. (pg.17)
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The cities, the roads, the countryside, the people I meet - they all begin to blur. I tell myself I am searching for something. But more and more, it feels like I am wandering, waiting for something to happen to me, something that will change everything, something that my whole life has been leading up to.
Though there had been moments of beauty in it Mariam knew that life for most part had been unkind to her.But as she walked the final twenty paces, she could not help but wish for more of it.She wished she could see Laila again , wished to hear the clangor of her laugh , to sit with her once more for a pot of chai and leftover halwa under a starlit sky. She mourned that she would never see Aziza grow up , would not see the beautiful young woman that she would oneday become , would not get to paint her hands with henna and toss noqul candy at her wedding. She would never play with Aziza's children. She would have liked that very much , to be old and play with Aziza's children. Mariam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes , it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that wshed over her. She thought of her entry into this world , the harami child of a lowly villager , an unintended thing , a pitiable , regrettable accident. A weed , And yet she was leaving the wolrd as a woman who had loved and been loved back.She was leaving it as a friend , a companion , a guardian.A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was no so bad , Mariam thought , that she should die this way. Not so bad.This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings. pg. 360
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I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
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There is only one sin, only one, and that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right of a husband, you rob his children of a father. When you lie you steal someone's right to truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no more wretched act than stealing. A man who takes what is not his to take, be it life or a loaf of naan, I spit on such a man. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him.
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war. Or, rather, wars. Not one, not two, but many wars, both big and small, just and unjust, wars with shifting casts of supposed heroes and villains, each new hero making one increasingly nostalgic for the old villain. The names changed, as did the faces, and I spit on them equally for all the petty feuds, the snipers, the land mines, bombing raids, the rockets, the looting and raping and killing.
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Only two weeks since he had left, and it was already happening. Time, blunting the edges of those sharp memories. Laila bore down mentally. What had he said? It seemed vital, suddenly, that she know. Laila closed her eyes. Concentrated. With the passing of time, she would slowly tire of this exercise. She would find it increasingly exhausting to conjure up, to dust off, to resuscitate once again what was long dead. There would come a day, in fact, years later, when Laila would no longer bewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There would come a day when the details of his face would begin to slip from memory's grip, when overhearing a mother on the street call after her child by Tariq's name would no longer cut her adrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion-like the phantom pain of an amputee. Except every once in a long while, when Laila was a grown woman, ironing a shirt or pushing her children on a swing set, something trivial, maybe the warmth of a carpet beneath her feet on a hot day or the curve of a stranger's forehead, would set off a memory of that afternoon together. And it would come rushing back. The spontaneity of it. Their astonishing imprudence... It would flood her, steal her breath. But then it would pass. The moment would pass. Leave her feeling deflated, feeling noting but a vague restlessness.
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I sat against one of the house's clay walls. The kinship I felt suddenly for the old land... it surprised me. I'd been gone long enough to forget and be forgotten. I had a home in a land that might as well be in another galaxy to the people sleeping on the other side of the wall I leaned against. I thought I had forgotten about this land. But I hadn't. And, under the bony glow of a halfmoon, I sensed Afghanistan humming under my feet. Maybe Afghanistan hadn't forgotten me either. I looked westward and marveled that, somewhere over those mountains, Kabul still existed. It really existed, not just as an old memory, or as the heading of an AP story on page 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle. Somewhere over those mountains in the west slept the city where my harelipped brother and I had run kites. Somewhere over there, the blindfolded man from my dream had died a needless death. Once, over those mountains, I had made a choice. And now, a quarter of a century later, that choice had landed me right back on this soil.
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I've crossed paths since with men like him. I wish I could say differently. But I have. And what I have learned is that you dig a little and you find they're all the same, give or take. Some are more polished, granted. They may come with a little bit of charm- Or a lot - and that can fool you. But really they're all unhappy little boys sloshing around in their own rage. They feel wronged. They haven't been given their due. No one loved them enough. Of course they expect you to love them. They want to be held, rocked, reassured. But it's a mistake to give it to them. They can't accept it. They can't accept the very thing they're needing. They end up hating you for it. And it never ends because they can't hate you enough. It never ends- the misery, the apologies, the promises, the reneging, the wretchedness of it all. My first husband was like that.
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It would be erroneous to say Sohrab was quiet. Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it. Sohrab's silence wasn't the self imposed silence of those with convictions, of protesters who seek to speak their cause by not speaking at all. It was the silence of one who has taken cover in a dark place, curled up all the edges and tucked them under.
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And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.
With the passing of time, she would slowly tire of this exercise. She would find it increasingly exhausting to conjure up, to dust off, to resuscitate once again what was long dead. There would come a day, in fact, years later, when [she] would no longer bewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There would come a day when the details of his face would begin to slip from memory's grip, when overhearing a mother on the street call after her child by [his] name would no longer cut her adrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion-like the phantom pain of an amputee.
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I have a theory about marriage, Monsieur Boustouler. And it's that nearly always you will know within two weeks if it's going to work. It's astonishing how many people remain shackled for years, decades even, in a protracted and mutual state of self-delusion and false hope when in fact they had their answer in those first two weeks.
When Aziza first spotted Mariam in the morning, her eyes always sprang open, and she began mewling and squirming in her mother's grip. She thrust her arms toward Mariam, demanding to be held, her tiny hands opening and closing urgently, on her face a look of both adoration and quivering anxiety... "Why have you pinned your little heart to an old, ugly hag like me?" Mariam would murmur into Aziza's hair... "What have I got to give you?" But Aziza only muttered contentedly and dug her face in deeper. And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections.
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I read daily, not so much for the benefit of my writing, but because I am addicted to it. There is nothing in the world for me that compares to being lost in a really good novel. That said, reading is an absolute must if you want to write. It is a trite enough thing to say, but very true nonetheless. I cannot understand aspiring writers who email me for advice and freely admit that they read very little. I have learned something from every writer I have ever read. Sometimes I have done so consciously, picking up something about how to frame a scene, or seeing a new possibility with regards to structure, or interesting ways to write dialogue. Other times, I think, my collective reading experience affects my sensibilities and informs me in ways that I am not quite aware of, but in real ways that impact how I approach writing. The short of it is, as an aspiring writer, there is nothing as damaging to your credibility as saying that you don't like to read
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She passed these years in a distant corner of her mind. A dry, barren field, out beyond wish and lament, beyond dream and disillusionment. There, the future did not matter. And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and it accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion.
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That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me thirty minutes. It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow. The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife's slain body in his arms.
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A creative writing teacher at San Jose State used to say about cliches: 'Avoid them like the plague.' Then he'd laugh at his own joke. The class laughed along with him, but I always thought cliches got a bum rap. Because, often, they're dead-on. But the aptness of the cliched saying is overshadowed by the nature of the saying as a cliche.
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It's basically an act of faith, hoping that a small idea will unspool into a bigger whole. Sometimes, in fact often, it doesn't and it just runs out of steam. The hope for me is that it will snowball. the best way to put it is that I have no particular method or technique per se, other than this: I plan nothing, I outline nothing, I start with an idea or an image or a line of dialogue and see where it leads me. Because I never know what the next page will contain, let alone the end of the book, I am perpetually surprised by the course that my characters take. The writing process is as full of surprises and twists for me as the reading experience is for my readers. I love the spontaneity of writing this way, the possibilities left open, the feeling that I am not constrained or committed to any given path. Every day, I am surprised by something. It may not be the most efficient way of writing, but it has served me well thus far.
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Theft is the one unforgivable sin, the one common denominator of all sins. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched then stealing.
Many years later when I began training as a plastic surgeon, I understood something that I had not that day in the kitchen arguing for Thalia to leave Tinos for the boarding school. I learned that the world didn't see the inside of you, that it didn't care a whit about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that. My patients knew this. They saw that much of what they were, would be, or could be hinged on the symmetry of their bone structure, the space between their eyes, their chin length, the tip projection of their nose, whether they had an ideal nasofrontal angle or not. Beauty is an enormous unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.
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