Author Pratiek Sparsh Samantara takes a look at some of the best recent Afghan and international literary fiction and nonfiction, examining how these works reflect Afghan culture, society, and history.
Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner
The debut novel by Khaled Hosseini was a huge success. In 2003, it became a national best-seller in the United States, catapulting its author to fame around the world. Unique, fluid prose that described Amir’s difficult childhood and adolescence as he grew up enthralled readers throughout the world. The book chronicles Afghanistan’s turbulent political history, from the early monarchy through the dreadful Taliban dictatorship and back again, all the way to the Soviet invasion of 1979. With the notorious events it depicts as its backdrop, the story is full of life and ends with one of the most memorable lines in movie history: ‘For you, a thousand times over.”
Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns
Hosseini’s second book was widely anticipated following the success of his debut and the (mostly positive) film adaptation. Despite establishing many of the same themes as The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns proves to be a much more emotionally draining read. Mariam and Laila are the main characters in this story, two women whose lives are torn apart by the deaths of loved ones in the face of Russian rockets and the Taliban’s continued presence. On Time’s list of the best fiction books of 2007, this book chronicles three of the most torturous decades in Afghanistan’s history.
Andrea Busfield – Born Under a Million Shadows
British journalist Andrea Busfield visited Afghanistan in 2001 to document the Taliban’s demise. During her numerous visits, she encountered children who made a living by entertaining tourists in ingenious ways. In the book Born Under a Million Shadows, Fawad is the naughty but charming demon from whom she names the protagonist. Busfield takes us to a place where people live in constant terror of a seemingly dismantled organization, but the country manages to rise above the melancholy and maintain its humanity in some way.
Nadeem Aslam – The Wasted Vigil
Aslam’s second novel, set in the aftermath of 9/11, is a masterful character analysis of a wide range of participants in a story that pits CIA assassins against Islamic fanatics. The novel’s beautiful imagery comes from the fact that it brings together a British, a Russian, and an American to paint the events of recent times in their own unique ways. As a result, a horrifying story about fundamentalist sexism in Afghanistan has been created that perfectly reflects the current mentality of the country.
Atiq Rahimi – Earth and Ashes
Atiq Rahimi’s book, which is less than 70 pages long, tells a story of immense significance on a tiny canvas. First Fable by an Afghan Exile Living in Paris Received Thunderous Applause in France Only two people survived an attack by the Soviets on Dastaguir and his grandson, and they set out to find the boy’s father. It was condemned for being unidiomatic and excessively disconnected, yet the film adaptation, directed by the author himself, won multiple awards, including Cannes.
Abdul Salam Zaeef – My Life with the Taliban
This book, written by a founding member of the Taliban, provides a first-hand overview of the organization’s ideology and an interesting look at the author’s own life. At Guantanamo Bay for four years as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan in 2000, Zaeef was taken into custody by American forces in 2001. One of the most prominent members of the Zardari government’s secret peace negotiations with the Taliban after his release from detention was him. Though he goes into great depth about his time in Guantanamo and his experiences there, Zaeef neglects to include important details such as the Taliban’s own crimes or a solution to the “Taliban dilemma” in his book. “This is a book that should be read by anybody interested in why Afghanistan has gone so severely wrong, even if it doesn’t tell how to put it right,” writes Nick Meo in the Telegraph of the book.
Jason Elliot – An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan
Jason Elliot, a British writer who visited Afghanistan twice, has put together a fascinating travelogue that shows the country at various moments in time. It’s a personal journey that takes it from Kabul to isolated mountain villages, telling a variety of stories and introducing a wide range of personalities. Despite the difficult terrain, the author is insightful and insightful – precisely what you want in a travel book, after all.
Tell me about your first choice, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun.
The book’s author, Ibn Khaldun, began work on it in 1375, making it the oldest on my list. There are few works from the period in which it attempts to explain how societies are organized and how different kinds of organization might effect the relationships between individuals. This is a unique work from that time period.
As a result of researching nomads like those Khaldun describes and refers to as desert folk, the book has had a profound effect on me. Although he uses Bedouin nomads as an example, he explains that this is a way of life that encompasses all marginal populations, whether they live in mountains, steppes, or deserts, and he asks the basic question: How did people who come from the margins and aren’t particularly sophisticated manage to form so many dynasties in the Arab Near East and North Africa?.. and
When the time is right, they can expand into more populous places thanks to their strong sense of community fostered by life in such a harsh environment. When war breaks out, this kind of group cohesion can be a huge military asset. However, these chances are few and few between since sedentary civilisations, places of urban high culture and irrigated farmland, are generally more rich and politically strong economically and politically. Social solidarity is low, while economic ties are robust. As a result, they maintain highly developed political structures and well-trained armed forces to deal with intruders from the periphery. Because of this lack of internal solidarity, the dynasties of incompetent rulers have no one to protect them from outside invaders when they are bankrupt. In the view of Khaldun, charismatic leaders from marginal regions restored order and established new dynasties; dynasties that then also fade in four generations and themselves are replaced by fresh outsiders… As a result, for someone who studies Afghanistan, the analogies he draws are fascinating.