TITLE: The Carpet Weaver
AUTHOR: Nemat Sadat
PAGE EXTENT: 304
PUBLISHER: Penguin India
GENRE: LGBT Fiction
MY RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Afghanistan, 1977. Kanishka Nurzada, the son of a leading carpet seller, falls in love with his friend Maihan, with whom he shares his first kiss at the age of sixteen. Their romance must be kept secret in a nation where the death penalty is meted out to those deemed to be kuni, a derogatory term for gay men. And when war comes to Afghanistan, it brings even greater challenges-and danger-for the two lovers.
From the cultural melting pot of Kabul to the horrors of an internment camp in Pakistan, Kanishka’s arduous journey finally takes him to the USA in the desperate search for a place to call home-and the fervent hope of reuniting with his beloved Maihan. But destiny seems to have different plans in store for him.
Intimate and powerful, The Carpet Weaver is a sweeping tale of a young gay man’s struggle to come of age and find love in the face of brutal persecution.
Believe me when I say this: After reading this book, I am NOT complaining about the state of affairs of the LGBT community in India ever again. This book was truly an eye-opener for me. Why? Read on to find out.
The Carpet Weaver follows 16-year-old Kanishka Nurzada, a gay Muslim teenager from Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1970s. He is the son of an esteemed carpet weaver in the capital. Gay people are referred to as ‘kuni’ in the local language, which is a belittling term meant as an insult. The society is extremely intolerant towards homosexuality and looks down upon gay men. Kanishka falls in love with another teenager, Maihan Melatyar and their forbidden love is portrayed perfectly: stolen moments and secret kisses. This story encompasses Kanishka’s strife in a strictly homophobic society and how he overcomes various hardships.
Firstly, being a queer person myself, I could step into Kanishka’s shoes right from the very first page and could relate to his circumstances in a way only an insider can. Coming from an orthodox family, I could feel the heartache and pain Kanishka endured in the 1970s as a gay teenager.
If you’re thinking this is just another gay love story, think again. Sadat seamlessly merges a gay love story with politics, war, loss, grief and a lot more serious topics which aren’t all that easy to discuss, to create a beautiful and heart-warming story. He doesn’t shy away from describing the brutality faced by the protagonist and trust me, it was so painful. SO SO PAINFUL. This book sucked me in like a blackhole and I lost track of time while reading this book (wait, is that how black holes work? Not much of a physics person here, haha.)
AND THAT UGLY TWIST. In no alternate reality would I have been able to predict it. I was so engrossed in the story that I began sweating and sobbing at that point. Not crying, SOBBING. This book was heart-rending.
I have never felt more represented in a book. All these days, I was cribbing over how narrow-minded India is as far as the LGBT community is concerned. This book changed EVERYTHING. Only when you look at someone in a situation far worse than yours will you realize how your situation is much much better and how privileged you are.
This book has some extremely gory scenes and I would issue a trigger warning here. This book deals with sensitive topics such as torture, bullying, severe illness, sexual abuse, slavery, harassment, murder and if you are someone who has a hard time reading about such topics, I would suggest you think twice before picking up this one.
WAIT. WAIT. HOW DID I FORGET TO MENTION THE FOOD? Sadat’s descriptions of Afghan cuisine had me drooling! I wanted to try all the Afghan dishes right away! The foodie in me was jumping with joy! In an otherwise serious plot, the food descriptions were the perfect breather.
In short, this was a memorable tale of a gay teen in Afghanistan as he discovers his sexuality and goes through hardships and loss and in the end, emerges victorious in his own way. The ending had me sighing with relief!
This isn’t just a novel. It’s an ode to all the LGBT teens across the world who are forced to remain in the closet and not accept themselves for who they are out in the open. Those who have no choice but to keep their love lives a secret. Those who deserve all the love and affection irrespective of who they want to kiss. Those who must know that they are not alone. This is a gift to all those teens who NEED to know that there is ALWAYS light at the end of the tunnel and NO MATTER WHAT, NEVER LOSE HOPE. NEVER.