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Five Great Books set in AFGHANISTAN

23rd August 2021

Five Great Books set in Afghanistan.

Sadly, this country is once again in the news, but how much do we really know about the country? In the words of Khalde Hosseini:  Too often, stories about Afghanistan center around the various wars, the opium trade, the war on terrorism. Precious little is said about the Afghan people themselves – their culture, their traditions, how they lived in their country and how they manage abroad as exiles.

Perhaps now is the time to become more familiar with what it means to be living in a country at the crossroads of cultures and ideologies

The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne SeierstadFive Great Books set in AFGHANISTAN

Two weeks after September 11th, award-winning journalist Åsne Seierstad went to Afghanistan to report on the conflict there. In the following spring she returned to live with an Afghan family for several months.
For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock in attics all over Kabul.
But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and hatred of censorship, he is also a committed Muslim with strict views on family life. As an outsider, Seierstad is able to move between the private world of the women – including Khan’s two wives – and the more public lives of the men. And so we learn of proposals and marriages, suppression and abuse of power, crime and punishment. The result is a gripping and moving portrait of a family, and a clear-eyed assessment of a country struggling to free itself from history.

Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran Khan

**Winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award 2021**
**Winner of the Tata Literature Live First Book Award for Non-Fiction 2020**

One of the first things I was told when I arrived in Kabul was never to walk…

When Indian journalist Taran Khan arrives in Kabul in 2006, she imagines it as a return to the land her forebears hailed from centuries ago. It is a city both familiar and unknown. She finds an unexpected guide in her grandfather who – despite never visiting the city – knows it intimately through books and stories, poetry and myth. With his voice in her head, and falling in with poets, doctors, actors and other Kabulis, Khan uncovers a place quite different from the one she anticipated.

Her wanderings reveal a fragile city in a state of flux: stricken by near-constant war, but flickering with the promise of peace, a shape-shifting place governed by age-old codes but experimenting with new modes of living. These walks take her to the unvisited tombs of the dead, and to the land of the living: the booksellers, archaeologists, intrepid film-makers and entrepreneurs who are remaking and rebuilding this ancient 3,000-year-old city.

Lost in its labyrinthine streets Khan reads the city more closely, excavating the ghostly iterations of Kabul’s past and its layers of forgotten memories – unearthing a city that has been brutally erased and redrawn as each new war sweeps through. And as NATO troops begin to withdraw from the country, Khan watches as her friends and comrades also prepare to depart, and the cycle of transformation begins again. Filled with unique insights about the meaning of home and the haunting power of loss and absence, Taran Khan conjures a magic that is spellbinding and utterly her own.

Five Great Books set in AFGHANISTANA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism. And he also wrote The Kite Runner which is a must read.

The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

Since the ascendancy of the Taliban the lives of Mosheen and his beautiful wife, Zunaira, have been gradually destroyed. Mosheen’s dream of becoming a diplomat has been shattered and Zunaira can no longer even appear on the streets of Kabul unveiled. Atiq is a jailer who guards those who have been condemned to death: the darkness of prison and the wretchedness of his job have seeped into his soul. Atiq’s wife, Musarrat, is suffering from an illness no doctor can cure. Yet, the lives of these four people are about to become inexplicably intertwined, through death and imprisonment to passion and extraordinary self-sacrifice.

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

A vivid, unforgettable story of an unlikely sisterhood—an emotionally powerful and haunting tale of friendship that illuminates the plight of women in a traditional culture—from the author of the bestselling The Pearl That Broke Its Shell and When the Moon Is Low.

For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice.

Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed. As Zeba awaits trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have also led them to these bleak cells: thirty-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an honor killing; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, who ran away from home with her teenage sister but now stays in the prison because it is safe shelter; and nineteen-year-old Mezhgan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for her lover’s family to ask for her hand in marriage. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, as they have been, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment. Removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.

Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer, whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his motherland have brought him back. With the fate of this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.

A moving look at the lives of modern Afghan women, A House Without Windows is astonishing, frightening, and triumphant.

BONUS BOOK

My Hidden Face by Latifa

Latifa was born into an educated middle-class Afghan family in Kabul in 1980. She dreamed of one day of becoming a journalist, she was interested in fashion, movies and friends. Her father was in the import/export business and her mother was a doctor.
Then in September 1996, Taliban soldiers seized power in Kabul. From that moment, Latifa, just 16 years old became a prisoner in her own home. Her school was closed. Her mother was banned from working. The simplest and most basic freedoms – walking down the street, looking out a window – were no longer hers. She was now forced to wear a chadri.
My Forbidden Face provides a poignant and highly personal account of life under the Taliban regime. With painful honesty and clarity Latifa describes the way she watched her world falling apart, in the name of a fanatical interpretation of a faith that she could not comprehend. Her voice captures a lost innocence, but also echoes her determination to live in freedom and hope.
Earlier this year, Latifa and her parents escaped Afghanistan with the help of a French-based Afghan resistance group.

 

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021