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Silent Hearts

Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 11 hrs and 3 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)
Regular price: $18.89
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Publisher's Summary

For fans of A Thousand Splendid Suns comes a stirring novel set in Afghanistan​ about two women - an American aid worker and her local interpreter - who form an unexpected friendship despite their utterly different life experiences and the ever-increasing violence that surrounds them in Kabul.

In 2001, Kabul is suddenly a place of possibility as people fling off years of repressive Taliban rule. This hopeful chaos brings together American aid worker Liv Stoellner and Farida Basra, an educated Pakistani woman still adjusting to her arranged marriage to Gul, the son of an Afghan strongman whose family spent years of exile in Pakistan before returning to Kabul. 

Both Liv and her husband take positions at an NGO that helps Afghan women recover from the Taliban years. They see the move as a reboot - Martin for his moribund academic career, Liv for their marriage. But for Farida and Gul, the move to Kabul is fraught, severing all ties with Farida’s family and her former world, and forcing Gul to confront a chapter in his life he’d desperately tried to erase.

The two women, brought together by Farida’s work as an interpreter, form a nascent friendship based on their growing mutual love for Afghanistan, though Liv remains unaware that Farida is reporting information about the Americans’ activities to Gul’s family, who have ties to the black market.

As the bond between Farida and Liv deepens, war-scarred Kabul acts in different ways upon them, as well as their husbands. Silent Hearts is an absorbing, complex portrayal of two very different but equally resilient women caught in the conflict of a war that will test them in ways they never imagined.

©2018 Gwen Florio (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

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Silenced Hearts Adrift

I read this book in conjunction with the book The Yellow Birds written by Iraqi war veteran Kevin Powers. This combination of books made for a complex, layered and multi dimensional look at Afghanistan recovering from the Taliban in 2001 and Iraq during the war in 2004-05. Both books were filled with raw emotion, heartbreak and world events roiling beyond individual control. While set in different locations, to me, each book looked at two sides of what might be considered the same problem.

I may have a deeper connection with these stories because I spent a great deal of time in the Middle East and Central Asia between 2001-2006. I visited the areas depicted in Silent Hearts in the Spring of 2001 before the 9/11 attacks and then in December of 2001 I walked in New York City to the Twin Towers site and stood in shock at the crater's edge watching as it still burned. I have strong memories of sitting and talking with US soldiers returning home from Iraq as they shivered next to me in the air-conditioning on flights from Istanbul. Images of women in burkas filling the streets, young students flocking to me wanting to practice their English, silk weaving factory visits and tea gatherings in small rural villages all fill my mind with complex feelings about that time.

Silent Hearts poignantly captured the gulf between the lives of Afghan women after the Taliban and the unimaginable freedom considered the norm by most American women. It contrasted concepts of marriage, children and family between our very different cultures. Florio painted a vibrant living picture with her writing and once again Cassandra Campbell's narration was nuanced and did the author justice with her performance. The story was well developed and the characters were easy to know and care about.

The Yellow Birds was a terrifying and beautifully written narrative that truly captured the horrors of war both for soldiers in the field and for parents, with emphasis on mothers, waiting and worrying at home. It delved into the damage and toll war takes on all involved and the difficult almost impossible recovery experience of many returning vets. This book strips away all the bravado and leaves behind the bare bones of horror. It was writing that transported the reader into the lives of others and a story that stuck with me long after the last word.

Be aware that both of these powerful books are filled with contradiction, double standards, deception and extreme violence. I am glad I listened to each one and can't choose a favorite. If you do go ahead and try these excellent recordings, be prepared to feel haunted long after the readings are over. There are no simple answers.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful