Book Review: Afghani's playing cricket

Friday, May 18, 2012

In 2000, the Taliban decided to adopt cricket as a national sport. Until this time, athletics of any sort were illegal, as they promoted celebration and rebellion. But appealing to the international cricket community, they hoped, would help them to gain acceptance from the rest of the world.

This story is the basis for Timeri Murari's latest novel, "The Taliban Cricket Club." Rukhsana is a fiery young journalist who has been forced into the shadows because she is a woman. So, she writes under a pseudonym, and faxes them a trusted contact.

And yet, even though she has taken every precaution to keep her identity under wraps, she is still summoned by Zorak Wahidi, the Minister for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, to appear before the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. She is not told why her presence is requested.

Rukhsana lives in Kabul, a once-beautiful city that, like its occupants, has wasted away under the rule of the Taliban:

The city, as fragile as any human, was gaunt with sickness; its blackened ribs jutted out at odd angles, craters of sores pitted its skin, and girders lay twisted like broken bones in the streets. Its gangrenous breath smelled of explosives, smoke, and despair. Even mosques were not spared the savagery, their skulls explosively opened to the sky.

Once she is gathered with the other area journalists, Minister Wahidi makes his proclamation: Afghanistan has applied to the International Cricket Council for membership, to show themselves as a fair and just people:

"Cricket will show all those against us that we too can be sportsmen. As our young men have much time to spare, we wish to occupy them to prevent any vices."

Because cricket, and all sports, have been banned for so long, none of the local men know how to play. A woman certainly would not be allowed to play regardless. But Rukhsana knows how to play and her cousins do not. So she must teach them, and she must do so without being caught.

"The Taliban Cricket Club" takes a few pages to get into, but before long Rukhsana shines through and the story takes over. What's most captivating is to think that, even though the book is a work of fiction, the over-arching plot line did truly exist.

Rukhsana is rebellious and gutsy. She will not be one to cave into submission just because of her sex. Her game of cricket is one of elegance and individuality, a game that she herself embodies.

As the story progresses, we see into her memory and into the experiences that have shaped her. She is her own woman, one who exemplifies the strength in quiet protest. Rukhsana is a female character that refuses to be forgotten, and "The Taliban Cricket Club" is a book that refuses to be ignored.