The Carpet Weaver is a fairly new novel penned by debutant author Nemat Sadat, an Afghan.

A friend of mine who finished reading it, told  me how he wanted to write a book about his experiences but this novel already had them all and much more. Intrigued, I ordered the book a few days later.

The story begins in Kabul of the 70s with the birthday celebrations of the main protagonist Kanishka. In the very first few pages we learn that the youngster is torn about his sexuality and crushes hard on his best friend – a boy.

‘Allah never forgives sodomy…. we can’t let one of our boys become a Kuni..” Kanishka’s godfather says these lines in the very first page. Words that scare him, make him fear if his uncle knows about his secret. ‘Kuni’ is an Afghan slang for gay men, the reader is informed.

Kanishka looks up to his elders, to his uncle, father, mother. And all of them want only one thing for him – to grow up and marry a suitable bride and give them lots of grandchildren. But all the hero of our book can think of is handsome men.

‘The Carpet Weaver’ gives us a rich glimpse of how Afghans lived, followed their traditions & hosted grand parties before the war shred their normal lives to pieces. So first we are met with youngsters who listen to Afghan pop,  go out with girls in mini-skirts and then suddenly we are in the midst of bombings and young children watching their parents die in front of their eyes.

Nemat Sadat’s way of writing and describing things make you feel like you are reading a book written by Khaled Hosseini, the magical word weaver of books like ‘The Kite Runner’.

Just like The Kite Runner, this book is about friendship, family, the harsh realities of war and betrayal by your own. But it is also about love.

Through Kanishka, Nemat Sadat, who is also a gay rights activist, gives us an honest insight into what’s it like for young gay teens growing up in a country where you could be beheaded for falling in love. The hero lives not just in fear of being outed, but also fears disappointing his family for not being the ideal son they wanted.

Quite a decent chunk of the novel focuses on Kanishka and his family trying to survive war and escaping Afghanistan. Things only get worse for them after they flee as they get stuck in a prison camp in Pakistan where they are forced to do slave work and make carpets. Kanishka is also faced with sexual exploitation at the camp, with the torturer-in-chief of the place treating him as his keep.

In the end they manage to find refuge in America and that’s where Kanishka finally has the freedom to decide what his destiny will be – to either be the ideal son and marry a suitable girl or to embrace his sexuality and live life on his own terms.

For a debut novel, Nemat Sadat has managed to pen an impressive book that will resonate with the youth of the LGBT community. I found the ending slightly disappointing, but the good thing is that it ends on a positive note. I keep hearing people complaining about how a lot of movies and literature focused on the LGBT community are either tragic or trivial. Well, The Carpet Weaver is neither and should serve as a breath of fresh air.