December 11th, 2014

Love is patient, love is kind, love had too much to drink and now he is confused

In Khadra’s The Swallows of Kabul, love is a major theme: Specifically, the novel discusses the ways in which love manifests itself in the lives of two different couples, both of which encounter problems surrounding their love for one another. The existence of love in such a dark place as Taliban-ruled Kabul as an escape from the oppressive streets is both a relief and a burden: Upon loss of love and the happiness that it yields, the loneliness and bareness of life in as repressive a culture as this one is emphasized. Love ends tragically in this book, and it does so in multiple ways: The stunning and loving Zunaira accidentally causes her husband to trip and he hits his head in a way that results in his death, while Atiq, a prison guard for the Taliban, struggles to love his dying wife. Even his wife’s final act of love is dark – she poses as Zunaira, who was condemned to death, in order to allow Atiq to escape with Zunaira, who did nothing wrong. She is brutally executed.

The coexistence of love and death is a popular theme in literature, perhaps because one attempts to make the other more manageable. Love is an accomplishment, and finding and experiencing it perhaps makes death feel less like the rushed end to an unaccomplished life, but rather a closing to time well-lived. The darkness of the death that occurs in The Swallows of Kabul questions this, however, by writing love a bloody and violent setting. To illustrate this, I designed a visual poem centered around the ideas of love and death. It examines death as an act of love (as Atiq’s wife, Musarrat saw it) and the call to meet at as dark of a place as an executioner’s tree.

The poem occurs on a background of “love is —-“ poetry that I wrote. This simply lists the various forms that love takes in Khadra’s setting, in order to give us a way to discuss the death that occurs simultaneously. “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” is a line from Gary Jules’s “Mad World,” and represents Musarrat’s literal wish to die for her husband’s happiness. Because of her decaying state and her husband’s fitful love, death is an enviable alternative to life and offers at the same time a version of happiness for her husband. This wish is the one upon which the requests to meet at the “hanging tree” are made. These lyrics are excerpts from Mockingjay, a film inspired by Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, and speak of two lovers who are meeting at the site of the one’s death in order to escape, as it is revealed later in the song, just as Zunaire and Atiq meet at the “site” of Musarrat’s death, to escape the oppression they face once again into the blissful state of love.

This representation describes the way that love is both the background upon which death takes place, and also is enabled to exist by death’s presence, a major theme in The Swallows of Kabul.

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