The heroine of this novel is Rukhsana, an intelligent, independent young woman fighting for survival under the Taliban regime in Kabul. A former journalist, Rukhsana is no longer allowed to work, but she still manages to publish stories in foreign newspapers by using a pseudonym. When she is summoned to appear before a Taliban minister, she fears she’s been discovered; but to her surprise, the minister simply announces that Afghanistan will be holding a cricket tournament in three weeks, and the winning team will be leaving the country to compete with other teams around the world. Rukhsana seizes this opportunity to escape by convincing her brother and other male relatives to form a cricket team. Women are not allowed to play, but Rukhsana is familiar with the game from her time as a university student in Delhi. Will she be able to coach her team to victory and freedom, or will her rebellion have dire consequences for herself and her family?
This is a book I should have loved, and I’m a little confused about why it didn’t quite work for me. The premise is certainly compelling, and I was very interested in learning about daily life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But while the picture Murari paints is certainly bleak, I didn’t connect to it on an emontional level; I believed the book’s depiction of a lives full of fear and oppression, but I didn’t feel it. The book frequently mentions that Rukhsana and her family are in grave danger, but we hardly ever see that danger firsthand, so the suspense doesn’t really build. I also think Rukhsana’s conflict is a bit too superficial or simplistic…she views the burka as a prison and hates the Taliban with every fiber of her being. Now, I’m not defending the Taliban, but I think having a little moral ambiguity in some of the characters would have made this a stronger novel. I did enjoy the contrast between the world of cricket, with its notions of order and fair play, and the world of war-torn Kabul. But overall, I was hoping to connect with this book more than I did.