"THE TALIBAN CRICKET CLUB," by Timeri N. Murari, HarperCollins, $24.99, 325 pages (f)
Rukhsana, a young female journalist in Afghanistan, doesn't know why she's been summoned to met with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
She assumes she's in trouble for something she's written, although she's been careful to write under a false name. She's reported the bare minimum when she's witnessed atrocities and great wrongs.
The reasons behind her summons may be nothing but probably will lead to something brutal, maybe even fatal.
She has no reason to trust her government or any of her neighbors and friends.
She's shocked when she's told the Taliban wants a cricket team, a team that will show the world the Taliban is a fair and just society. She knows the game. She realizes the Taliban have no idea what they're asking or any understanding of the game based on sportsmanship, civility and equality.
Based on the actual attempt in 2000 to introduce the game by the Taliban, this story in "The Taliban Cricket Club" by author Timeri N. Murari helps the reader recognize the audacity of the move.
Rukhsana's interview is a scary start to a scary story based on circumstances that free Americans can not fully understand.
Rukhsana dons a burka every time she goes out, peeking out at her life through slits as she mourns the loss to her people and particularly the women of Afghanistan when the Taliban came into power.
She is outwardly obedient to the many arbitrary rules the Taliban enforces but inwardly chafes at the injustice and the cruelties and the waste of talent and time and people as the people of Afghanistan are denied access to music, art and simple pleasures like television, children's toys, pets, card and board games, even wedding parties.
People are executed for small infractions and punished for the smallest mistake.
Women are told they should only be seen in the home and in the grave.
So when the opportunity comes to teach her cousins to play cricket, she realizes that not only will it fill many empty hours with exercise and team bonding, it may present a way out for each of them.
But it comes with terrible risks.
She has to find a way to teach the team the skills it needs while fending off an unwelcome and sinister suitor who is basically stalking her every move.
She has to pretend she hasn't found true love she can never enjoy.
The story is riveting and real, even heart-stopping at some points as the Taliban, the religious police and the man who wants her to marry her against her will all impact her decisions and choices.
She waits for money from America so she can go to the man to whom she was betrothed as a child and tries to tend to her gravely ill mother while she waits. She tried to protect her younger brother who has to answer for her sins if she's discovered.
Through this story, which provides a window into the Afghanistan society and similar police states, it's easy to question how such things happen.
It's also hard to emerge and realize it is indeed happening.
There is some described violence due to the Taliban's cruelty and doesn't have any swear or sexual innuendos.
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