It is amazing what a book can do to a person. One can sit in a beautiful park on a sunny day putting away all her concerns and suddenly be transported somewhere far, to Afghanistan… all of a sudden everything that surrounds you vanishes, one doesn’t see blue sky, high trees, everything is forgotten, one is there weeping over the destiny of a little boy.
That was me weeping in the grand gardens of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul after I had received my Croatian visa ahead of the FI retreat and decided to indulge myself with a few beautiful hours of reading. But I was reading about war and suffering children and there was no peace inside me, my hands were cold, my handkerchief wet, my heart aching.
“It doesn’t take you too long to cry,” my friends would tell me once I had told them about the book. That’s true but this book is so real. Read it… you will feel the same.
The first similarity that I discover is the word jan used by the author. We use this word a lot in Azerbaijan. Jan means soul, spirit, it is untranslatable (that is why it is not translated by the author either, like many other words that he left in Farsi). Jan is how parents and grandparents reply to their children and grandchildren when they are called instead of saying simply “Yes.” I see that in Afghanistan they add jan to names: “Amir jan” We say “ana jan” (dear mother), “ata jan” (dear father), Azerbaijan. I like the idea of adding jan to names and suggested calling one of my relatives “Arif jan” but he doesn’t agree. He hasn’t read the book, he is not under the spell.
Then I see that Afghans also drink a lot of tea, just as we do. We use the same Farsi words and people are so similar everywhere: all parents love similarly, all lovers feel the same tenderness, all children are vulnerable and perfect everywhere and war is so equally ridiculous and terrifying…
I see that Afghans are very attached to their traditions, which sometimes don’t allow them to develop and free themselves from unnecessary borders and limitations. I see that they also often do lots of thinking and worry that breaking with tradition might be equivalent to betraying their identity, their ancestors. I see that whoever leaves his country with bitterness doesn’t find happiness and inner peace until he accepts, forgives, loves his past and his roots. I see that in many immigrants from Azerbaijan too.
As I read the book my own thoughts keep coming up, I stop, think, look around: “This garden is so beautiful. It is amazing what human hands can create,” I tell myself before diving in back again and finding myself in the ruins of Kabul and the neatness of San Francisco.
A couple of hours pass, I have a headache. The book is over. I am happy with the ending. Some of my wishes about the ending came true. It is simply a book… I know, but I had wished. I close the book, open it, read about the author again, write down the name of his other book, analyse the cover and put it carefully into my bag. I wouldn’t give it to my 20-year-old sister to read. I don’t want her to read about cruelty although she has to know that “there are bad people in this world, and sometimes bad people stay bad. Sometimes you have to stand up to them.” Anyway, not now… Maybe later when she is a grown up and in case she has become infected with the now-widespread “glass is half empty” disease and doesn’t notice all the good around her.
I get up to walk and I am thinking how lucky we are to live in peace and not be caught up like mere toys in someone’s sick war games.
I am heading to a dinner with a Turkish former colleague. “How is Baku?” is his usual first question. “Pretty and peaceful” is my positive reply, instead of the usual sighing and whining. It might be a surprise to him why I mention peace, because he hasn’t read the book… yet!