Written by Yasmina Khadra (actually Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul), Swallows of Kabul is a work of art. It's been quite a while since I've read a novel with such beautiful prose and sensory-fulfilling imagery. Khadra's words have a lyrical quality that sweeps you through the story. I should insert some kudos here to the translator, John Cullen.
The novel takes place under Taliban rule in a city that has all but forgotten its history and yet lost its way. The novel follows the story of two couples: Mohsen and Zunaira, and Atiq and Musarrat. The former were well educated, middle class career people. Zunaira and Mohsen actually met in college. Zunaira struggles with feeling like a caged bird in a city she where she was once free and successful and happy. Mohsen borders on insanity and constantly struggles with his humanity. His struggle to balance the person he used to be with the life he is leading now is so powerful and terrifying. Atiq the jailer and Musarrat, his sickly wife, are in their 40s. They lead a barely tolerable existence with each other. Atiq, seemingly on the verge of mental breakdown, wanders the streets fighting with his own mind. He becomes so angry with his life that he begins to take it out on the only person he can.
While I admit that much of the time I was reading this novel I was paying so much attention to its language that its movement seemed rather slow, but the moment steadily increased without my noticing it. When I reached the end, it was like slamming on the brakes in a car doing 60 mph.
A remarkable love story with shattering consequences...this book left me stunned.