Right now we're enjoying:
The Taliban Cricket Club
by Timerin Murari.
The premise, in 25 words or less: A young Afghani struggles to escape marriage to a murderous official and secure her brother's freedom, through the unlikely vehicle of a national cricket team.
You'll love it if you like: Romance, humour and suspense, with a sinister twist. One critic dubbed it "Bend it Like Beckham in a burka," reflecting the book's feel-good flavour.
Author's credentials: Timerin Murari is a journalist, filmmaker and playwright and author of the bestselling novel Taj.
The guts of the book: Rukhsana is a young journalist living in Kabul in 2000 and secretly filing stories for the Hindustan Times about the lot of women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Her widowed mother has terminal cancer and her cousin Shaheen, whom she is destined to marry, has fled to the US and is expected to send for her any day.
When Zorak Wahidi, the Minister for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, announces the government's intention to apply for membership of the International Cricket Council, Rukhsana sees the possibility of escape for her beloved brother Jahan. She played cricket at university in Delhi and has just three weeks to teach the game to her brother and cousins, before a tournament that will decide who will go to Pakistan for training.
But when the cruel and violent Wahidi declares his intention to marry Rukhsana, she goes into hiding. Coaching the team means not only risking her life, but endangering others, and as her deadline for marriage to Wahidi draws closer, she is unable to contact Shaheen. As Rukhsana contemplates her impossible choices, her thoughts return to Veer, the Hindu boy she fell in love with in Delhi five years before.
Why you should read it: It's a touching and heart warming story about the bonds of family, courage in the face of tyranny, the power of love and being true to oneself. Rukhsana is a lively, brave and sometimes foolhardy heroine, appalled by the brutality and oppression she witnesses, and determined to find freedom for herself and her brother.
But nothing's perfect right? This is not the book to read if you are looking for an in-depth account of life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is an engaging and at times tragic story, but in maintaining an overall lightness of touch it risks over-simplifying, and some characters (notably the representative of the Marylebone Cricket Club) come close to caricature. The neatly packaged Hollywood-style ending involves several all-too-improbable turns of events.
Trivia: Murari was inspired to write the book in 2000 when the Taliban added cricket to its approved list of sports and began to promote the sport within Afghanistan.
Memorable lines: "This was once a city of music; we hummed and sang Sufi, Furzi, ghazals, qawwali and Bollywood songs. Melodies, seducing us to enter and listen, flowed out of every shop and followed us from street to street. Now the shiny intestines of cassettes fluttered in the breeze, knotted around posts and trailing along footpaths, ripped out to show us how fragile music was."
The Details: Published by Allen & Unwin, $36.99