May Love2Read Book Review Winner
The winner of our LOVE2READ Book Review Competition for last month, with the theme of ‘Escape’, is Sue Swincer. Sue submitted a great review of ‘The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif’. We are hoping to have Sue on as a podcast guest later this month.
Her winning entry can be read below:
SURVIVAL AND ESCAPE
THE TRUE STORY OF A YOUNG MAN’S QUEST FOR FREEDOM
‘The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif’
By Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman, Insight Publications, Victoria 2008.
Najaf begins his account in the first chapter with a description of his experiences in the Woomera Detention Centre in the desert of South Australia. There, in spite of such despair within himself and all around him, he returns in his thinking to his family and life – growing up as a child born into a traditional Hazara family living in the north of Afghanistan. From there on he recalls episodes that remind him of sorrow, fear and torture, interwoven with memories of the beauty of his homeland and the joys of family life.
The rest of his story unfolds as a series of reminiscences, not necessarily in chronological order, but as a whole; revealing how he has come to terms with the different forms of adversity he has undergone. What is noticeable is that the underlying tone of his accounts is not of bitterness but of gratitude that he has survived seemingly hopeless situations and has, in the end, achieved the kind of life of which he had dreamed.
In Najaf’s words, during his childhood Afghanistan became “a type of explosion laboratory”. The Russians brought with them “state of the art” weaponry. They were vigorously opposed by the Mujahedin in a long and horrific struggle. Ordinary people who wanted a life of peace were constantly the victims of the war.
In 1980 Najaf’s family moved from their small village to the outskirts of the historic city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the site of the Blue Mosque. There he was apprenticed for a short time to a blacksmith and then to a rugmaker. He recalls how delighted he was to be in a rugmaker’s workshop. At first it was menial work but he looked forward to one day creating rugs with beautiful patterns and colours.
One night his family compound suffered a direct hit which caused a massive explosion. Some members of his family were killed and Najaf suffered a severe wound in his left leg. It was many months before his leg healed enough for him to be able to walk and resume work. In his account of this time he seems to understate his long struggle with pain and his despair about his ability to be independent in the future.
As a young man he saw others of his age being hunted down in order to be “conscripted” into one or other of the opposing armies. Many were able to hide themselves from the recruiters, but many others were not as fortunate.
Eventually in the 1990s the Taliban entered the scene and they too were ruthless in their pursuit to recruit young men. By1995 Najaf was married with a child when the horrific massacre of the Hazaras of Mazar-e-Sharif began. He was able to hide for several days but was eventually captured and tortured. He couldn’t remember how long he was in captivity, but the numbers of those with him dwindled as men were taken out and executed. Najaf expected the same fate. At first he was able to pray to God but in the end he says that praying was too difficult. However, miraculously, he was released and able to return home to his family, but only for a short while.
It was obvious by then that the Taliban were conducting an ongoing campaign of genocide: as a young male Hazara he would never be safe. So he began seeking shelter in places outside the city, staying a while and moving on. In the end his family decided that in order to survive he must leave and seek refuge outside of Afghanistan. His wife and child were taken to a place of safety in Pakistan, and he began his long journey south.
Najaf’s story is not just an account of a series of events that have made up his life. It is a record of his reflections on the heritage of values that have underpinned his life: his faith in God, his belief in hard work and responsibility, and gratitude for his place in a loyal and loving family. He expresses his deep love for his homeland, his appreciation of beauty, and thankfulness for the friendships he has enjoyed in his new life in Australia.
Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman also co-authored The Honey Thief, published in 2011 by Wild Dingo Press.
Review written by Sue Swincer