A House Without Windows is the perfect way to lose yourself over a whole weekend. It’s an intensely moving, deeply sad – sometimes funny – novel.
In war-torn, poverty-stricken, modern day Afghanistan, Zeba has done a terrible thing. She’s been found with the body of her slaughtered husband, a bloody hatchet taken to his head. But was it really Zeba that killed him? She certainly had motive – Zeba’s husband Kamal was a violent, often drunk, good-for-nothing husband and his family – Zeba, son Bashir and three daughters – are surely be better off without him. But a heinous crime has been committed and someone must pay. So, to the sobs of her children, Zeba is hauled away to the women’s prison where she finds herself among a group of women with tragic, unjust stories – women imprisoned simply for running away from their abusive homes, for sex outside marriage, or wrongly accused of killing their husband by the real perpetrators. It’s a world where a woman’s word is nothing compared to man’s and even if a woman is wrongly violated she must pay for the crime when a man’s honour is compromised.
Young, American-born Yusuf is assigned Zeba’s case. He was born in Afghanistan but fled with his family to New York as a child. Trained as a lawyer, he is Western in many of his ways but is drawn to his homeland and Zeba’s is his first case on his return. But Yusuf is frustrated by the inadequacy of the Afghan legal system, and it’s an impossible case when Zeba won’t tell anyone what happened on that fateful day and the villagers, distrustful of an outsider, won’t talk to Yusuf. If he can’t get Zeba to reveal the secrets she’s holding back, or if her mysterious mother can’t come up with some of her old tricks to save Zeba, she will surely hang, leaving four orphaned children.
A House Without Windows, with its vivid descriptions of the food, smells and people, transports us to Afghanistan. Hashimi paints a bleak picture of life there for women and the injustices they face. But Zeba is so lovable and the women surrounding her in the prison so likeable and their stories desperately moving that it’s ultimately uplifting. It’s a wonderful book that makes for an ideal weekend escape and you won’t want it to end.
Nadia Hashimi is a known for her bestselling novels The Pearl That Broke Its Shell and When the Moon Is Low. She was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents. She is a paediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington DC.