New York Times correspondent Rod Nordland’s The Lovers: Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet, the True Story of How They Defied Their Families and Escaped an Honor Killing reveals the highlights of this tale in its lengthy subtitle. We know the end before we know the beginning (the young couple doesn't die a tragic death with love unfulfilled), just as we know that this is a story of young lovers who, like Shakespeare's classic couple, must defy their parents and their culture to be together at any cost.
Nordland, formerly the newspaper’s Kabul bureau chief, tells in his measured but fast-paced prose the captivating tale of the strikingly beautiful Zakia and the shy but fierce Ali, and the budding romance that flowers between them as they grow up on neighboring farms. Since the two are from different ethnic groups, their love seems doomed from the start, especially in a patriarchal culture where daughters are the property of their fathers and where a daughter's disobedience brings shame to the family, resulting in physical violence and even death. Yet, though Zakia and Ali face many obstacles, they marry, run away, hide out in cold mountainous regions and are helped by numerous families along the way. Once Nordland reports on their continuing saga in the Times, the couple wins the support and encouragement of benefactors around the world.
Through many trials and tribulations—including a close call in which Zakia is returned to her family and almost certain death—the couple comes safely to a life of warmth and love on the "barren golden hillsides in Surkh Dar," still trying to unravel the mysteries of their unfolding love.
This is as much Nordland's story as it is the young couple's tale. He ponders just how much good his reporting will do, how the story might really end, and how deeply he (and the Times, by extension) should become involved in helping the couple escape and make a new life for themselves. Nordland absorbingly tells this enchanting love story, which reveals a world fraught with cultural, social and ethical dilemmas that in spite of love's apparent victory in this case remain challenging and perhaps resistant to any final resolution.