Under the Black Blanket


Nadeem Aslam and Birth Under the Blue Burka

blue burk.jpegThe young Pakistani-British writer Nadeem Aslam produced a haunting, evocative book about Afghanistan called The Wasted Vigil which deservedly won awards and accolades in 2008. In it he evokes both the war-ravaged land's original beauty - perfume factories, night-blooming jasmine, orchards - and its horrors - Soviet butterfly bombs maiming children, madrassas hatching hundreds of baby suicide bombers monthly.

A theme running through all of Aslam's work (more on fine display in a story he wrote for Granta's Pakistan issue, very much worth buying here) is the situation of women under the jihadists.

This passage below caught my eye. In it, one of the book's protagonists, Zameen, pregnant with an AWOL and dead Russian soldier's child, spends seven of her gestating months as a refugee picking her way toward relative safety in Pakistan. Somewhere on the road, she finally lies down.

"She gave birth prematurely inside the blue tepee of a burka, planting a long stick in the earth and draping the cloak over it, opening it wider and weighing down the edges with rocks. If the tree above had been shorter she would have detached its long thorns to pin the hem to the ground. Smoke from the candle escaped through the embroidered eye-grille and disappeared into the dead branches of the tree. At that stage of her travel there were no adults with her, only three children who remained on the other side of the tent that night, falling asleep as the darkness increased. She had found one of them a month ago, wandering half-mad through the wilderness ... ."

Memorable images: Thorns, smoke, dead trees, half-mad refugee children, and premature baby, not long for this world, born in the dirt under the blue rag.

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