Murari, Timeri N. The Taliban Cricket Club. Toronto: Harper Canada, 2012.
The Taliban Cricket Club is both an easy and challenging book to read: easy because it is a page-turner and challenging because of its subject matter. Murari was a new writer to me, and a little investigation revealed his eighteen books, fourteen of them fiction, together with plays and screenplays and an early career in journalism. These journalistic roots came, perhaps, as no surprise to me, for I was able to read the novel in an afternoon. Murari’s style is somewhat terse with very few compound-complex sentences, and his paragraphs are short. A further explanation of this style is, of course, the fact that The Taliban Cricket Club is a first person novel, and there are very few of us who consistently talk in multi-claused, multi-phrased sentences.
The narrator is a young woman, Rukhsana, who is trying to teach her brother and male cousins how to play cricket as a result of the Taliban’s decision that Afghani men should learn to play the game. After studying in Delhi, where she was a member of her college’s cricket team, Rukhsana worked as a journalist in Kabul until the Taliban took power and women were barred from participation in any form of public life. Nevertheless, Rukhsana still publishes reports from Kabul under a pseudonym illicitly emailing her work out of the country. Her father and grandparents were killed by a landmine, so she and her dying mother and young teenage brother still live in the old family house in Kabul.
If it were not for the setting, this novel would be a standard, plot driven “escape from the enemy in time of war or oppression” story. The last few chapters are such that one cannot put the book down, for one must know “do they make it?” Its theme of conflicting loyalties and loves is not particularly unusual either. But the setting is Kabul under the Taliban, and so the whole issue of systemic, legislated, and enforced misogyny is foregrounded, and it is this focus on the status of women that makes the work challenging to read.
The horror of Rukhsana’s situation in Kabul lingers with the reader long after one’s finished the story. Just how does one deal with a world view that declares “WOMEN SHOULD ONLY BE SEEN IN THE HOME AND IN THE GRAVE” (18)? What is it that gives rise to such fear and hatred of the female? At the end of the novel, it is not so much Rukhsana one thinks about. She personally doesn’t stay with the reader in the way, say, an Elizabeth Bennet stays with one, or, to think of a first person narrator, Jane Eyre or, to consider a first person narrator created by an male writer, Moll Flanders. It is Rukhsana’s situation and the situation of all women that discomforts the reader at the end of the book.
At the heart of it all is Rukhsana’s situation of being essentially a non-person because she is a woman, a no-thing, an object. The place of women in the Taliban Afghanistan may be an extreme, but when I consider just how the world is for many women today, I am forced to the conclusion that entrenched misogyny continues to thrive. Certain, particularly violent, acts tend to make the international news. I am thinking, for example, here of the shooting of Malala Yousafzi and the gang rapes in Delhi and Mumbai, or the threats of rape received by Caroline Criado-Perez for championing the image of Jane Austen on a British bank note. I suppose I should be heartened by the fact that such acts cause outrage. But a quick view of the statistics listed on http://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm or the reports of sexist chants in support of rape being part of Frosh Week celebrations at St. Mary’s in Halifax and at UBC do not lead to optimism, despite the fact that both student organizations and university administrations have condemned the chant and are investigating appropriate discipline. Neither does the removal of the Famous Five (Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards) from a Canadian bank note. (More information about the Five and the Persons Case in Canada is available at http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/dates/gg/case-affaire-eng.html). Nor does information about wage disparity between men and women (http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/2010-30-e.htm).
I could go on, but this post is a book review rather than an essay on sexism. My point is that the novel’s power lies not so much in its story or its style but in how it provokes thought. While Rukhsana’s story reaches a satisfactory conclusion, I would not say I was “happy” at the end of The Taliban Cricket Club.