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The Sound of Language

Cover of The Sound of Language

The Sound of Language

A Novel
Borrow Borrow
In this luminous story of bravery, tradition, and the power of language, an Afghan woman and Danish widower form an unexpected alliance.

Escaping the turmoil and heartbreak of war-torn Kabul, Raihana settles with distant relatives in the strange, cold, damp country of Denmark. Homesick and heartbroken, Raihana bravely attempts to start a new life, trying hard not to ponder the fate of her husband, who was taken prisoner by the Taliban and never heard from again.

Soon after arriving, Raihana finds herself in a language school, struggling to learn Danish, which she thinks sounds like the buzzing of bees. To improve her speaking skills, Raihana apprentices herself to Gunnar, a recent widower who is steadily withdrawing from the world around him, even neglecting the bee colonies he worked so hard to cultivate with his late wife. Over the course of the bee season, Raihana and Gunnar forge an unlikely relationship, despite the disapproval of their friends and relatives. But when the violence Raihana thought she had left behind in Afghanistan rears its head, she and Gunnar are forced to confront the ghosts of the past as they navigate the uncertain future.

Praise for Song of the Cuckoo Bird

"Mesmerizing . . . a sprawling, gorgeous intergenerational saga."
--Jacquelyn Mitchard.

"An intelligent, absorbing novel."
--The Boston Globe

From the Trade Paperback edition.
In this luminous story of bravery, tradition, and the power of language, an Afghan woman and Danish widower form an unexpected alliance.

Escaping the turmoil and heartbreak of war-torn Kabul, Raihana settles with distant relatives in the strange, cold, damp country of Denmark. Homesick and heartbroken, Raihana bravely attempts to start a new life, trying hard not to ponder the fate of her husband, who was taken prisoner by the Taliban and never heard from again.

Soon after arriving, Raihana finds herself in a language school, struggling to learn Danish, which she thinks sounds like the buzzing of bees. To improve her speaking skills, Raihana apprentices herself to Gunnar, a recent widower who is steadily withdrawing from the world around him, even neglecting the bee colonies he worked so hard to cultivate with his late wife. Over the course of the bee season, Raihana and Gunnar forge an unlikely relationship, despite the disapproval of their friends and relatives. But when the violence Raihana thought she had left behind in Afghanistan rears its head, she and Gunnar are forced to confront the ghosts of the past as they navigate the uncertain future.

Praise for Song of the Cuckoo Bird

"Mesmerizing . . . a sprawling, gorgeous intergenerational saga."
--Jacquelyn Mitchard.

"An intelligent, absorbing novel."
--The Boston Globe

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One Entry from Anna's Diary
    A Year of Keeping Bees

    15 March 1980

    When we first decided to become hobby beekeepers, it was because our friend Ole had been doing it for a very long time and seemed to find a lot of solace in the rituals and responsibility. But I had some doubts.

    The wings of honeybees stroke about 11,400 times per minute--hence the distinctive buzz. I wondered about the buzzing of the bees. I was sure that constant hum would drive me crazy. But now, after a few seasons, the buzz of the bees is like a soothing rhythm, almost like a song, the song of spring.

    Skive, Denmark--January 2002

    Bzzzzzz, that was how she thought it sounded.

    Bzzzzzz, like the buzzing of a thousand bees.

    The same sound she used to hear when she visited her uncle Chacha Bashir in Baharak. He had been one of the wealthiest men in town with his silk and bee farm. Silk and honey, he would say, "The riches of the kings are mine." Then the Taliban killed him and no one knew what happened to his family.

    That was how the Danish language sounded to Raihana, like the buzzing of Chacha Bashir's bees.

    The Danes mumbled, she thought as she watched them in supermarkets, on television, and on the streets. She had never seen so many white people before, and this was the first time she was seeing white people at such close proximity. So she stared at them, she just couldn't help it.

    They were different from what she had imagined. They were not all tall and fair and beautiful, some of them were short and ugly. And they mumbled when they spoke. The standing joke, Layla had told her, was that they spoke like they had hot potatoes in their mouths and Raihana agreed.

    She had escaped a second brutally cold winter at the Jalozai refugee camp in North Western Pakistan when the Danish government offered her asylum. It was difficult for a single woman with no family, no husband, and no education to survive. Her choices had been limited. She could either die in a refugee camp where the cold wind from the mountains pierced its frozen fingers through the tents to all but peel the skin off the bones, or she could go to this country where her distant cousin and his wife had agreed to give her a home.

    A part of her didn't want to leave the camp. She had to wait, she thought, wait for Aamir, or maybe go back and look for him? But even she wasn't foolish enough to go back to Kabul. Everyone knew that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the plane attacks in America and everyone knew that the Taliban were the same species as al- Qaeda. America would attack; that's what powerful countries did. The Taliban would fight back, they said, and though the Afghans in Denmark, like many others, didn't like the idea of American troops on Afghan soil, it was better than the Taliban. Some thought the Taliban had been unjustly rousted out of power, that they were the good guys.

    So Raihana joined the small number of refugees living in Denmark, all of whom watched the news with desperation, wondering when they could go back. Afghanistan, they knew, would be a war ruin for several decades to come, but there was still hope. They wished that, somehow, Afghanistan would no longer be synonymous with tortured men and women living in penury. Maybe things would change and Afghanistan would become a safe haven, a progressive country, a normal country.

    "Have to go home someday, can't live here all our life can we?" Kabir would say almost every day. "Don't unpack everything, Raihana, we'll go back soon."

    "Go back to what?" Layla would ask her husband, her hands on her hips as her son, Shahrukh, pulled at her salwar.

    "Mor, slik," he said,...
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The Sound of Language
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A Novel
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