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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
As a reviewer, there are times when I feel desperate to read something different, something that will instantly engage me with its unique plot, realistic settings, compelling characters, and unfamiliar cultural practices and beliefs. One Hundred Silent Ways by A.A. Mohammad is the book that fulfilled all those needs. At times, possibly because of the first-person narrative style, I thought I was reading a memoir. Indeed, perhaps this novel is a memoir to some degree, but there were enough disturbing situations and characters that made me wish it was simply fiction. Whatever the case, it is obvious much of the content is rooted in the facts and fates of women living in Pakistan in the late 1980s. It wasn’t hard to imagine the shock experienced by the protagonist, Noora, a young woman with a bright future, when her father uprooted her entire family from their comfortable life in America to live in Pakistan so he could fight in the Soviet-Afghanistan war. For me, the living conditions, the subservience of women, and the parental expectations and cultural demands placed on adult children were both eye-opening and unacceptable. Regardless of her reasons, supposedly to protect Noora, I was appalled by Noora’s mother’s lies, not to mention the hideous brutality of Noora’s husband. Even as someone familiar with abuse, I shuddered.
While One Hundred Silent Ways delivers a strong, positive message about the love of a mother for her child, readers need to read this story for themselves to see how that applies. Noora’s plight reminded me of a former teaching associate back in the 70s. This beautiful woman from India always looked forlorn and incredibly sad. When I finally found the courage to ask her why, she said: “You could never understand, never believe what it is like to be a married woman in our culture.” I didn’t want to believe that some cultures, like hers and Noora’s, could be that mentally and spiritually crippling, but sadly this novel rid me of any doubts. While one has to hope that things have improved over the past 50 years, it’s no secret that even in the more liberated Western cultures, we still have too far to go when it comes to gender equality. Little wonder then, that A.A. Mohammed has dedicated this novel to the women of Afghanistan and refugees everywhere. This is a must-read.