Kirkus Reviews QR Code
TALI GIRLS by Siamak Herawi Kirkus Star


A Novel of Afghanistan

by Siamak Herawi ; translated by Sara Khalili

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 2023
ISBN: 9781953861665
Publisher: Archipelago

The lives of three Afghan girls reflect a legacy of oppression.

In the year 2006, the village of Tali has “no electricity, no plumbing for water, no paved roads.” “Wretch” is a common term for females. A girl “marries when the man of the house says so. And then she breeds and cooks and cleans. It is life, my dear.” Yet in this bleak environment, there are moments of hope and happiness. A school opens, giving girls a break from chores to learn to read and write. Some men are kind, supportive. But these moments are few and quickly fade under the constraints of tradition and the spreading pall of Islamic orthodoxy. One day, armed Taliban forces arrive, set the books and blackboards on fire, and take over the schoolhouse, seeking land and workers to produce opium. They’re allied with the powerful, corrupt Director of Religious Education, Mawlawi Khodadad, who will affect the village terribly. Herawi, a former Afghan government spokesman who works as a writer and journalist in London, tells the story of three Tali girls mostly through their own voices. There are echoes here of Miriam Toews’s Women Talking. Kowsar is spared marriage to the 58-year-old Khodadad at age 9 because of her fainting spells. Her friend Simin, also 9, becomes his next choice and barely survives the physical injuries of her wedding night. The third girl, Geesu, seeks to escape an arranged marriage by fleeing the village with her young boyfriend. Herawi’s first novel to be published in the U.S. has been rendered into clear, pointed prose by Khalili. He uses the pervasive rituals of household and village life to provide color and context and displays compelling empathy when he contrasts older women’s anger and resignation with the girls’ shock and despair upon realizing the physical and emotional imprisonment they face.

Eloquent and saddening.