“The Netherlands and Afghanistan are two worlds. I feel connected to both of them

Mahebar mothersThe first novel by Fru Karimi, who lives in the Netherlands, shows the impact of the 44 years of the Afghan civil war.

Photo: Meridian

Writer Forough Karimi arrived in the Netherlands 25 years ago with her husband, who is pregnant with her son. At the asylum seekers center, Karimi put money on the line. She and her husband did not like the food and the made-up schemes. For example, she used her iron as a heat conductor under a pot, for example to fry an egg. Her husband was standing outside smoking a cigarette to clear the air. “You’re still allowed to smoke there,” she laughs.

Karimi studied medicine at Kabul University but did not complete her studies due to the war in the capital. She stresses that you can’t plan a flight, but that you should seize the opportunity when the opportunity presents itself. Once in Holland, she was able to complete her studies and become a psychiatrist.

Karimi has always been a writer. Also in Afghanistan. I didn’t stop writing, but I stopped publishing. Besides, other things took precedence back then. I had to learn a whole new language, I had a career, and a family. Now it’s time for my story. It went really fast.

Did the profession of psychiatrist help her to write? It is a question of the chicken and the egg. Maybe I became a psychiatrist because of the writer in me. Being a psychiatrist gave me depth. It also plays a role in shaping my characters, but I didn’t consciously subject them to psychoanalysis.

The important themes in her novel are war, escape, building a new life in a new country, but also family love and especially mother’s love. Mahebar mothers It began in 1978, which is very important for Afghanistan, when a successful coup was carried out with the support of the Soviet Union. Before the coup, there was a lot of political debate in Afghanistan, but then many opponents of the new regime were arrested, tortured and sometimes killed.

Karimi does not write directly about these prisons, but writes about the consequences for those who fall behind. How families were torn apart. Where are their beloved relatives? What happened to them? Are they still alive? Are they being tortured?

In 1979 a second coup occurred in Afghanistan. Russian forces occupy the country. By wandering, the main character Lulu and her son Ramen end up in Amsterdam. They are building a new life and are constantly on the lookout. Lulu goes to work in a pharmacy. Ramin grows up and goes to study medicine and eventually becomes a radiologist.

His devoted mother is silent about her past, but she wrote everything. It feels connected to a line by the Persian poet Rumi: “The pen had to write, her heart lay there, I wrote of that heart – I parted with grief.”

Years later, Ramin faces the shadows of his past when his wife is stabbed and the culprit remains unknown. His mother never revealed her past and now he has to find out the truth. There is no doubt that the culprit has something to do with this mysterious past. Will he find out in time?

Afghan influences

Although creamy Mahebar mothers The book, written in Dutch, is full of influences from the Afghan language. The chapters are numbered in Persian for example, and the book contains several poems that I translated from Persian to Dutch with the help of translator Adrian Crabendam. The function of these poems is to express feelings and love for poetry, which is well-established in Afghan culture.

Karimi’s Afghan background is also evident from some descriptions, which is also semi-poetic. Watch the comparison made by a third person between two sisters: “Nahid is not ugly, but when you stand next to Mardjan, you are like the moon fading in the morning light.”

Karimi: The Afghan language does contain a lot of figurative and poetic language. Hair is very important to us. In Persian, it sounds very natural.

Many Persian terms are also used, such as the words “father”, “mother”, “grandmother” and other relatives, as well as the names of dishes and desserts.

At the back of the book there is a glossary as well as an overview of the history of Afghanistan from 1919 to 2021. Karimi says that the history of Afghanistan is very important in the novel. People often talk about the events themselves, not how they draw you.

44 years of war

Prior to the 1978 coup, Afghanistan had performed reasonably well and different political parties could have formed, Karimi says. Many people have become politically aware. But other times dawned, in part because of the conflict between the various political movements. The April 1978 coup changed the country, mainly due to political purges. The coup of 1979 had even more dire consequences. The Soviet Union occupied the country from 1979 to 1989 and fought a bloody battle with Mujahideen and Islamist rebels backed by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States.

main character in Mahebar mothers politically neutral. “She’s not an activist, so she sees everything from a layman’s point of view,” Karimi says. The Soviet-backed communist government also did a lot of damage. The West has supported all resistance groups, including war criminals. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the West withdrew its hands from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is no longer relevant, despite the many competing religious fighters they have armed. I lived through that terrible war.

“People often talk about events for themselves, not about how you draw.”

Many Afghans still oppose each other. Karimi consciously incorporated this into her account. It’s a realistic story, so those contradictions are incorporated. They just don’t beat. There are differences, but people basically live with each other. There is no society without inequality, without tensions between population groups. There are also such tensions in the Netherlands.

It has been 44 years of war in Afghanistan. This leaves deep traces. The problem began in 1978. After the coup in April of that year, many opponents of the regime were killed. Karimi says there are lists, but they are not complete.

There are also victims, it is not known where and when they died in any way. This also appears in my book, so I can show people what this does. In 2013, lists appeared in the Netherlands of 5,000 names of Afghans who died in 1979. Some other lists were destroyed. In 2013 and 2014, it was decided to open one of those mass graves whose location will be revealed. But thousands of those missing remained in unidentified mass graves, despite protests from their relatives, including in response to lists found in the Netherlands. No other mass graves have been opened, so the missing are still missing. The Afghan government at that time knew the location of the mass graves, but did not want to open them. And a complicated issue partly related to the fear of flashbacks.

Last summer, the Taliban once again seized power in Afghanistan. Karimi is deeply upset by the lack of women’s rights and the other atrocities taking place there.

‘I am very angry. The Taliban had now promised the girls to go to school. But in fact, the women returned home. Their lives are really horrible. But this news hardly makes it to the margins in the newspapers now. This topic is not on the global agenda. I am very concerned about that. Girls’ schools remain closed and the burqa was reinstated in public on May 7.

She is happy that she now lives in the Netherlands. Sadly, I was born in a country where war broke out. I’ve come some distance, but on the other hand, I work on it every day. We have accepted our fate. The Netherlands and Afghanistan are two worlds. I feel connected to both worlds.

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