Set amid political clashes of Afghanistan, the book is a tale of emotions versus fanaticism
By Vaishali Dar
The story is set in the tumultuous 20th century reign of Prime Minister Mohammad Daoud Khan, when Afghanistan was under the influence of Islamic values. The upper class consumed alcohol, yet believed that homosexuality is anathema to Islam —or so the majority of both believers and non-believers suppose.
Nemat Sadat’s debut novel The Carpet Weaver is a compelling story of love, hatred, homosexuality, fanaticism and political clashes in Afghanistan. Despite the fear of danger in a country where death penalty is meted out to those deemed to be ‘kuni’, a derogatory term for gay men, the brave-heart protagonist Kanishka Nurzada falls in love with his friend Maihan, with whom he shares his first kiss at the age of 16. The two lovers face even graver challenges during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in 1979, when Kanishka’s father is dragged into an army coup for being a Maoist.
This episode uncovers the sway of Maoism in Afghanistan and how Maoists were persecuted by royalists and Islamic groups. The days of trials worsen for Kanishka as Baba gets arrested. The story takes a drastic turn when he sets off on a vigorous journey with his family to work as a carpet weaver in a restricted camp in Pakistan and further escapes to the US, where he constantly fights for his freedom, in desperate search for a place to call home, and in the earnest hope of reuniting with his beloved Maihan. Whether it’s the dismissal of homosexuality by Kanishka’s mother or his family’s regard and generous attitude towards the Quran and the Vedas, the audacious tone in narration about homosexuality, religion and many conflicting thoughts in Afghanistan are a few remarkable elements in the novel. Sadat is the first native from Afghanistan to have blatantly come out as gay and campaign for LGBTQIA rights in Muslim communities worldwide.
Through brilliant narration and imagery interspersed with stories of terror and violence in devastated Afghanistan, Sadat articulates the happy and desperate moments in the life of a teenager, separate from some intricate ones that link ‘homoaffiliative’ feelings between young boys to trying times of their captive camp days in Pakistan. Sometimes the story digresses into too many elaborate details – be it the culinary history, traditional family rituals, folklore or prolific countryside description. However, the plot is sometimes painfully honest. A richly rewarding read!